Social Media Notebook: The Hidden War for the Future of Healthcare

MDNG Psychiatry, April 2008, Volume 9, Issue 4

As of this writing (late February 2008), the presidential campaign is in full swing. Although Senator John McCain has virtually wrapped up his quest to become the Republican Party nominee, Democratic Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are still struggling to win their party's nomination.

As of this writing (late February 2008), the presidential campaign is in full swing. Although Senator John McCain has virtually wrapped up his quest to become the Republican Party nominee, Democratic Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are still struggling to win their party’s nomination. Healthcare has been a major theme of the Democratic race, with Obama and Clinton both promising to achieve some form of universal health coverage. Although there are few substantive differences between their positions, they have clashed over whether individual mandates are an appropriate way to achieve this goal.

Overall, this debate has been interesting, but in some ways, it is irrelevant, as many companies (mainly in the technology industry) are quietly positioning themselves to influence health in ways most policymakers could not imagine. For them, the argument over consumerism is over. It’s not a question of if Americans will become active managers of their health, but when.

Today, companies like Google, Microsoft, and Internet start-up change:healthcare are engaged in a largely hidden battle to infl uence how consumers will navigate and utilize the health system of tomorrow. This confl ict is being fought on three fronts:

Privacy: Who should we trust when it comes to protecting patient privacy?

Health Information: Information is power, and those who control it will be well-positioned to leverage it to transform health.

Behavior Change: This is the Holy Grail for public health officials, marketers, and physicians. Th ose that can develop new ways to spur people to engage in healthier behaviors (or prefer certain products) will be at an advantage.

Two recent events in the digital health arena illustrate how this confl ict is currently playing out.

Google Health

For more than a year, industry observers have been speculating about Google’s plans for healthcare. Th e company is developing what has been called “Google Health,” a series of tools designed to help people better manage their health information.

In late February, we learned a little bit more about Google’s plans. The Cleveland Clinic announced it had partnered with Google to test the “secure exchange of patient medical record data such as prescriptions, conditions, and allergies between their Cleveland Clinic PHR to a secure Google profi le in a live clinical delivery setting.” The Cleveland Clinic announcement indicates Google is positioning itself for long-term success in the healthcare arena by:

  • Leveraging its corporate credo “Don’t be evil” in order to transform itself into a trusted steward of highly sensitive medical content. Th e company is likely betting this philosophy will make people more comfortable with storing their health information on its servers.
  • Because it dominates online search, Google already has a lot of information about what health topics are most popular and the websites that are attracting the most traffi c. Although we don’t know how Google will use people’s personal health records, at minimum, it may beam highly targeted and relevant marketing messages to consumers.
  • Because Google can deliver highly specific marketing messages (via sponsored advertising) to consumers using its services, it will be able to infl uence their beliefs and actions. dCard: Creating More Accurate and Accessible

Provider Records

On February 26, change:healthcare announced the formation of a consortium to create a “new consistent fi le format standard for collecting, storing, and exchanging healthcare provider data.” It is developing a “dCard” as a standard method of verifying that information about physicians and other providers is accurate. This consortium is trying to solve a major problem: how to ensure that people have accurate information about healthcare providers. If the dCard standard is adopted, the companies developing it stand to benefi t as consumers begin to view them as trusted advisors. Over time, the consortium could increase its value by giving people the ability to rate physicians using the card. If this were to happen, it could be in a position to aff ect how consumers, government agencies, and managed care reimburse and reward providers.

Overall, what this confl ict most clearly demonstrates is that regardless of whether one thinks it is a good idea, the infrastructure for health consumerism is already being constructed. Thus, it will be important to carefully watch how this hidden battle is being waged and which companies ultimately prevail.

Fard Johnmar is the founder of Envision Solutions, LLC, a full-service healthcare marketing communications consulting fi rm. Visit www.envisionsolutionsnow.com to learn more about the company and the services it offers.