As I sat in the Las Vegas airport last Friday, sipping a cup of coffee, waiting for my 7 a.m. flight to Chicago (via San Francisco… someone at United failed Geography 101, that's for sure) to board, I perused the New York Times. Not yet ready to digest news about Syria, the GOP presidential primaries, or anything else too serious, I quickly thumbed past the front section. I was making my way to sports when an article in the business section grabbed my attention: "This month, the Dutch carrier KLM began testing a program it calls Meet and Seat, allowing ticket-holders to upload details from their Facebook or LinkedIn profiles and use the data to choose seatmates."
What's that? I could sit next to the guy who keeps ignoring my LinkedIn requests? Or maybe the person who posted that adorable picture of their toddler with a face full of birthday cake? Well sign me up! Or not.
I'm a pretty courteous passenger — I say "Hi" to the people in my row, but leave them alone if they are engrossed in a book, playing Angry Birds on their tablet, or plugged into their media player.
And, like so many of you, I've mastered the subtle (and not so subtle) art of telling a seatmate to leave me alone without actually uttering those words — opening my book (yes, I still read paper books), unraveling the headphones to my iPod, or just pretending to cough up a lung so they think I have some contagious disease. You know, the norm.
I'm also pretty protective of my Facebook and LinkedIn profiles, so the thought of uploading them for 200-plus strangers with whom I'll be in a confined space (read: no quick exit) for three hours is a bit unnerving. I'm not ready for that level of intimacy with my fellow travelers. But, I may be ready for it with my health care providers. More importantly you better be ready for that level of interaction with patients… or should I say consumers?
I'm not talking about the run-of-the-mill Facebook page where hospitals aim to attract followers by posting information about offered services or other health-related matters. No, I'm talking about the fact that a significant portion of the population is tethered to their mobile devices and glued to sites like Facebook. This hasn't escaped the attention of people who are trying to dramatically alter the face of health care, like Mark Bertolini, chairman and CEO of insurance giant Aetna.
Bertolini gave a captivating speech at HIMSS last week. A portion of it focused on how Aetna is going full bore into the technology and social media realms. Aetna now does $400 million worth of IT development annually. Bertolini said the company is a technology vendor, not just an insurer. With 500 million people expected to be using health care apps by 2015, the way they access health care is going to change, he said.
Last year, Aetna acquired iTriage, a popular mobile app that lets patients search their symptoms and even locate the nearest health care provider and what insurance they take. There are plans to add a scheduling function and even let patients select their doctors based on mutual interests. Think of it as Match.com for docs, he said.
Aetna also completed the purchase of Medicity last year. The tech firm develops health information exchanges. Part of the rationale for the purchase, Bertolini said, was to help with the creation of mobile apps, which Aetna will be giving away for free on an app store.
Ultimately, he said, "consumers just want health care to fit into their lives" and convenience will become a critical factor.
Matthew Weinstock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.