SAN DIEGO — Everyone is always pondering what will be the next Uber-like innovation that turns the health care business completely upside down. But I’m just as curious about who stands to be the taxicab company in the equation, trying to figure out how its pockets got emptied so quickly.
This idea was brought up Sunday afternoon, as part of the opening keynote by CNN host and Washington Post columnist Fareed Zakaria here at the Health Forum and American Hospital Association Leadership Summit. He believes that three forces — supercomputing, cloud-based storage of data and mobile technology — are converging to completely transform how human knowledge is transferred. This is impacting every sector of our economy, health care included.
Banks and credit card companies, for one, are becoming data warehouses, not just places to store money. How they harness all that information will be key to their future viability. Health care is in a similarly volatile situation.
“I feel as though this is the most likely revolution that is going to transform the medical profession and health care in general,” Zakaria says. “You will know more about things and you will know them more quickly than has been the case ever before.”
The Yale and Harvard-trained journalist admits he’s no health care professional and declined to go into great detail about personalized medicine, genomics or any of the other scientific ways this may play out. But he’s certain those who prevail in tomorrow’s health care arena are the ones who figure out how to use the troves of data at their fingertips to distinguish themselves from competitors.
“Doctors, hospitals, administrators are gaining access to unprecedented amounts of data, and unprecedented amounts of information about the people who desire health care, which really means all of us,” he say. “And what you do with that data will probably be the key differentiator going forward.”
This information revolution is going to move at an ever-quicker pace, Zakaria says. Back in 1990, the fax machine — which some hospitals are still using — was one of the most cutting-edge pieces of technology. Today, the smartphone in your pocket is more powerful than the best supercomputer around in 1985. It’s more powerful than any computer in NASA’s command when it sent the first man to the moon and back, times 100. Your Galaxy or iPhone’s computing power is going to double in the next 18 months, and then double again in the same time period. “That is the kind of reality that you’re living in and it’s still difficult to comprehend,” Zakaria says.
Forward thinkers are harnessing the information revolution to reinvent business models, Uber and Netflix being two prime examples. While these innovations are vastly improving the customer experience, they are also creating much of the angst in this world. The income of cab drivers and other workers all over the globe is being sucked up and re-deposited into the pockets of a much smaller group of people in Seattle or Silicon Valley or wherever the innovators and disrupters happen to be. Zakaria says people are rightfully peeved about it. “This is inequality on crack cocaine. We’ve never seen anything like this,” he asserts.
I’m always curious in these conversations who stands to lose the most if such a monumental shift occurs in health care. Is it the doctors? The nurses? Hospitals? Insurers? Like Zakaria, I’m trained in nonscientific endeavors, so I don’t pretend to know the answers. I’m not even sure it’s the right question to be asking.
But hospital leaders like Stephens Mundy are grappling with these issues every day. During a different session Sunday evening, the president and CEO of CVPH Medical Center, in Plattsburgh, N.Y., said Zakaria’s remarks hit home. The hospital is involved in several innovative partnerships to transform how care is delivered. From early stumbles, they’ve found that data is key.
“If you think [buying the newest surgical robot] is your big decision, you’re wrong,” Mundy says. “Your big decision is who are you going to partner with and what data do you know? Yes, we have a da Vinci. [But] that’s not what’s going to change our patients’ lives. This is what’s going to.”