Digital Health: Consumerization and Modernization at a Price?

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Digital Health: Consumerization and Modernization at a Price?

Capturing the interest of venture capitalists and tech enthusiasts alike is an emerging space in the tech market: digital health. What makes the entry to this space so enticing is the current gap between personal health care and technological innovation. A virtually untouched sector, health care can largely benefit from a tech make-over.

The popularity of this emergence is validated by the money, talent, and resources that venture capitalists have been pouring into upcoming health startups, especially ones right here in the Bay Area. For example, considered the ‘Uber for teeth’, Studio Dental brings a dentist to your doorstep, changing the way we see formal health appointments. Health Tap acts as a mobile center place where patients can access a vast amount of fresh health knowledge, assisting in the making of everyday personalized health decisions.

According to Rock Health, a San Francisco based venture fund, there has recently been a record high in digital health investment. Exceeding $4.1 billion, venture funding in health has been greater in 2014 than in the past three years combined. Even Google Ventures, a huge player in this avenue of the consumerist tech market, has reported that life sciences and health now accounts for over a third of Google’s overall investment.

The creation and integration of this new tech space carries huge potential for both investors and innovators. As a fresh space, it allows companies the fundamental freedoms of movement, design, and development, and to a level that has never been seen before. To digital health, tech implementation brings a greater sense of individualism to a highly antiquated system, directly increasing the potential for efficiency and satisfaction for both patients and health care providers. In this new ‘Age of the Empowered Patient’, patients can exercise control over their own health through innovative health technologies, and realize their self-sufficiency.

Fundamentally, we are seeing the consumerization of health care; technological products are becoming reoriented in order to serve the consumer rather than big enterprises. However it is important to note that consumerization is not consumerism, the ideology and social phenomenon of the almost unhealthy obsession of acquiring and consuming goods in ever greater amounts. In the modern era of relentless advertising, consumers are almost at the mercy of these goods and their companies.

Consumerization is a whole other phenomenon; it is a phenomenon in which companies are now under the influence of the consumers and consumer tech, catering and designing their technological products and services for the individual. Before, tech software, called an enterprise informational system (EIS), was catered to only large enterprises and government institutions. With greater consumer independence and empowerment, we are seeing a change in the dynamics between tech design, consumers, and enterprise power.

As digital health begins to cater to individuals, becoming a key component in transforming health care and the power of patients, we may unfortunately also begin to see consumerization cause sticky moral considerations. Health is not generally a consumer product; so traditionally, a priority in the health industry is a safe, trustworthy system. In fact, healthcare’s value lies largely on the building of solid relationships between patients and health providers. By integrating more technology in the health system however, human relationships can become more prone to deterioration.

It is important to note that alongside smaller startups building health care apps and services, progresses in health care technology are also inclusive of technical, hospital-like machinery. Vinod Khosla, another Bay Area venture capitalist, goes so far as to predict that “technology will replace 80% of what doctors do” in one of his blog posts. He stresses that machines can manipulate tenfold the information that a doctor can provide, as well as apply this information to the benefit of a patient. Machines can provide tremendous wonders towards the progression of overall human health.

However, what is important about Khosla’s position is that he believes machinery will not replace physicians, but help to make better ones. Using the idea that “healthcare today is often really the ‘practice of medicine’ rather than the ‘science of medicine,'” Khosla emphasizes that human empathy will remain intact in the health care system despite increased technological implementation.

Despite optimists like Khosla, the bigger picture still lies in whether or not we are letting automatons ruin our relationships in a department traditionally based on human trust.

Now that health care is becoming digitized, it is viable to subject to social consequences apparent between humans and machines. Many economists theorize that job depletion and economic sluggishness is due to the increasing integration of technology in different markets. It is no joke that machines are more efficient, less flawed, and less work to deal with than humans, especially in mundane tasks. However, the game changer of this technological evolution is that machines have the ability to exceed human intelligence; therefore causing the value of a human worker to sharply lose appeal.

On the up-side, Mark Andreessen, a self-employed venture capitalist in Silicon Valley, supports the view that instead of dwelling on how machines can replace the human element with artificial intelligence, the human race may yet survive this “war on robots”.

Andreessen theorizes that future successes may be based on creativity, rather than technical capital. If machines can take care of all labor, what will humans have left? We will have creativity and motivation to achieve in ways that exceed machinery capabilities. In the same way that physicians should not fear incoming health technology, the general public should not fear technological innovation; for it will help to create a better world.

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