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Healthcare in the U.S.: Who Is The Real Customer?

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I recently attended a major healthcare IT conference in Boston and while I was pleased to hear the underlying message that healthcare organizations must embrace the rise of the awakening customer, I was shocked to discover that when it comes to healthcare IT, the primary customer was not the patient. 

I did not buy that at the time, and I do not buy it now.

Healthcare is a three trillion dollars a year industry, yet the United States is facing a healthcare crisis at multiple levels – from the costs of individual policies, medications and procedures to funding clinics, hospitals and other healthcare organizations. We are one of the most expensive yet worst performing healthcare systems in the world. So what is wrong here? Is it because we are a corporate, profit-driven healthcare delivery system? Do we have too many government regulations impeding us from doing the right job? Or have we lost focus of who the actual customers for healthcare is in the U.S.? 

A healthcare executive attending the conference addressed this last question by stating  that the patient is not really the primary customer. Yes, you heard that right! While healthcare is a skewed industry with trillions of dollars changing hands at the organizational and executive level, the group that should be the primary customer, patients, is simply not empowered.

I propose that we change this thinking and identify the real customer, the end user – the patient!

How can we turn this around? How can we help patients gain control of their healthcare, to gain leverage? Patients have the right to own their health data and actively choose and participate in health and wellness services and activities. Right now, there is a multi-billion dollar market for anonymous medical data operating in the grey zone. The so-called ‘deidentified data’ is often sold without the patient’s knowledge or explicit consent (who really reads the small print on consent forms?)  

Now, imagine a scenario in which the patient is empowered to make choices regarding their own healthcare delivery, controls their own health data and is the primary customer.

The Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) for Health Information Technology within the U.S. Department for Health and Human Services (HHS), has been promoting patient-controlled data and delivery via their Patient Engagement Playbook. Words of wisdom from a government agency! Do not underestimate the significance of this; corporations and lobbyists are paying attention to the current movement of patient empowerment and redefined consumerism

We are in the midst of a technological  revolution on a grand societal scale, from the Internet of Things to robo-doctors and self-driving cars, to literally out-of-this-world missions to Mars and beyond. But do not overlook the way this technological revolution is  empowering individuals. 

Technology exists today to empower the individual by giving them control of their  health records and enabling them to share their digital data and/or participate remotely in clinical studies that would improve medical care and research on a societal level. It is even conceivable that by incorporating data from wearable devices, some with FDA approval, the Internet of Things (IoT) of biological data will reach into the world of digital healthcare. 

I strongly believe that the real customer is the patient, and I say: Let’s work together to bring the U.S healthcare into the 21st century. Let’s rebuild it into a technology-driven system that is efficient and patient-centric with technology empowering the patient and the society at large. If you want to find out more about how patient empowerment can help clinical research click here.

About Dr. Nitin Desai

Dr. Nitin Desai is the President and Chief Medical Officer of Health Wizz, a secure mobile platform that provides consumers with the necessary tools for aggregating, organizing and sharing medical health records over the blockchain.

As a proven entrepreneur and medical professional, Dr. Desai has established himself in the medical industry with varied career experiences, including Orthopedic Surgery training and practice in India as well as Internal Medicine training and practice in the U.S. Dr. Desai has been a physician of internal medicine at Cross Creek Medical Clinic for the last 21 years, and continues to work for this private practice. In addition to his many medical professional roles, he is also chief of medical staff at Cape Fear Valley Health System.

Dr. Desai holds a MBBS from India and a Master of Surgery in Orthopedics from The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda. Dr. Desai completed his Internal Medicine residency at the Jamaica Hospital Medical Center in New York City.