With the election around the corner, everyone is hammering about the economy, healthcare reform and the war. Given the critical time in our election history, I found it amusing that I attended the Stanford Healthcare Policy Conference, “Can Innovation Save Healthcare Reform” last week and found the speakers debating the same problems they were talking about 10 years ago. Don’t get me wrong. I bow to the legends at Stanford, like Alan Garber and Alain Enthoven. Those were the giant minds in graduate school that got me interested in healthcare in the first place. But seriously, someone could have peeled me off the floor, I was so bored.
It was like nothing had changed since I left my dorm room in Escondido Village in 1998. It was the same academics muttering about “access, affordability, and quality.” And it dribbled on…“rising healthcare expenditures, cost containment, rationing resources,” …blah, blah, blah. This is why I loved it when Mark Smith, M.D., CEO and President of the California Healthcare Foundation, took the stage and opened his talk with the slightly irreverent comment. He said, “Here we all are talking about healthcare reform, and not one of you has mentioned the patient yet.” I wanted to stand up and applaud (and in full disclosure Mark serves on the Google Health Advisory Council).
I do not pretend to have the magic bullet for healthcare reform in the U.S but here is what I do know about the average “Joe” on the street and what I have learned working on the Google Health team for the past 2 years.
When it comes to healthcare, we are all in denial!
- No one cares about their health until they or a family member gets sick.
- The average consumer (over 52% surveyed) does not understand their health insurance benefits. (Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, 2008 Survey of Healthcare Consumers).
The Un(der)insured are no longer an abstract term. We know them, we are them.
- If 1 in 4 Americans are insured but not adequately covered (Consumer Reports), you most likely know them. These people are your friends or ex-colleagues who have left big companies to go out on their own as sole proprietors and are forgoing comprehensive health insurance until their business takes off. It’s your neighbor who recently got laid off and could not afford his COBRA extension.
People Are Online and Getting Information from Non-Experts – So Deal With It!
- People are hungry for information and want to hear from other patients like them.
- I mean think about it, everyday 8 million Americans research a health related topic on the internet, 66% (>5 million) start with a search engine (Pew Study, October, 2006). Roughly 65% of internet users use the web as their primary source for researching health issues and about 87% of all U.S .physicians use the internet on a daily basis. (Harris Interactive/Google Study, Assessing the Impact of Online Behavior on Healthcare Decisions, May 2007, not published online)
- More than 20% of American internet users have created some sort of user-generated health-related content – like an online community about a certain condition (Jupiter Research, February 2007).
- Roughly 10 hours of video gets uploaded to YouTube every minute, so you can imagine how much is getting loaded on health related experiences or personal health diaries. Just go and search on it today.
People are Spending A lot of Money to Stay Beautiful and Young
- People seem to be willing to spend a lot of money on maintaining their looks, beauty, and wellness.
- There were 11 million plus plastic surgeries performed in 2007 (American Society of Plastic Surgeons) and surveys show that more than half of the U.S. adult population use vitamins, herbs and other forms of nutraceuticals (FDA).
These are just some interesting consumer trends that I think about every night as I commute home from Google. Google Health is our first foray into the area of consumer health. We have just gotten started and we have a lot more to do and learn. But if there is one thing I learned this week, healthcare reform enthusiasts should take a hard look at what consumers are already doing today. We could all learn from how we are currently activated and NOT activated in our own healthcare rather then recycle old debates on access, quality and costs.
The views expressed in this blog post are mine alone and not those of my employer.