The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
The Atlantic Gets Smart on Health Care

Regular readers of Via Meadia know the stress we place on the technology that is going to upend the health care industry in productive ways. It looks like other media outlets are starting to realize it too. Megan Graber at the Atlantic published a piece today on a new iPhone analysis app that allows ordinary Americans to detect any abnormalities in their urine. The mechanics of this particular app aren’t important, but Graber’s conclusion is telling, and applies to far more than the innovation she’s discussing:

The specific idea of the app isn’t to write doctors and other professionals out of the equation; it makes a point of its ability to provide doctors with more detailed information for them to analyze. The app does, however, aim to help those with diabetes—or with kidney, bladder, or liver problems—to manage their diseases on a day-to-day basis. (It might also offer some evidence of things like urinary tract infections.) The broader point, though, is to empower people as patients—to acquaint them them with their bodies’ rhythms, to familiarize them with the workings of their own atoms and bits.

As Graber hints but doesn’t quite say, new technology is going to disrupt and transform the health care industry in coming decades. We can’t really know how that disruption will shake out, but we do know that patients will have a much more important role in managing their own care. In a world that’s seen as much democratizing tech innovation as has ours, this should be an obvious fact, but much of our current health care debate is framed in a way that ignores it.

Both parties are largely focused on how to pay for the system as it currently is, rather than looking at how we can set up the appropriate infostructure to encourage and capitalize on the kind of health care democratization we’re going to see. The Atlantic article is an encouraging sign that our public discussion is moving away from this short-sightedness. The sooner we can recast the debate in a way that takes account of this trend, the better.

[Image of Doctor's Hands in Computer from Shutterstock] 

Published on February 28, 2013 8:00 am