The healthcare industry isn’t known for its consumer friendliness.
That’s starting to change. It’s possible to unlock the secrets of your DNA by spitting into a tube and mailing it to a lab, and keeping track of every step we take is as seamless as carrying around our phones.
Still, we’ve got a long way to go before we’ll be able to diagnose and treat ourselves without the help of a doctor. For example, most of us know very little about the cost of our medications, and the vast majority of us have no idea what separates one health insurance plan from another.
What can’t be denied, however, is that a health revolution is beginning to taking shape. Pharmaceutical villains like Martin Shkreli are increasing public awareness of issues with drug pricing. Companies like Fitbit and Apple are vying for the attention of increasingly data-savvy millennial buyers.
With that in mind, Business Insider sat down with industry leaders at JPMorgan’s annual healthcare conference this month to get a sharper picture of what the real consumer revolution might look like. Here’s what they had to say:
The first step: Changing how we see our health
There were a fair amount of sceptics, who said that the only way a consumer revolution would happen is if consumer behaviours around healthcare change. People haven’t seemed interested in learning more about their genetic information or other health metrics when they’re healthy.
“I thought that everyone would jump at having their DNA sequenced and stored in a cloud,” said Andre Choulika, the CEO of Cellectis, a company that is using gene editing to treat cancer. “But it’s going to be either a government initiative to force people to have their DNA sequenced, or by personal initiative it’s not going to happen. Even if it costs $100, people will not do it.”
Early in the week, Takeda’s chief digital officer, Bruno Villetelle brought up the concept of becoming the “CEO” of your health, or more simply, the one in charge of what goes on in your body, both when feeling fine and feeling sick.
“It’s a double edged sword,” Christian Schetter, the CEO of Rigontec, a German company that is developing a new way to approach cancer treatment using RNA said of a consumer revolution. “Be aware that if you’re really the CEO of your health you have enough safety networks to not fail with that.”
Will we ever be able to diagnose ourselves?
As consumers get more involved with their health, the question of whether it might be feasible to remove doctors from the equation has been tested out in everything from genetic sequencing to “revolutionary” finger-prick blood tests. But those who try to go directly to the consumer, face some serious resistance from regulators.
“The worst thing you can do in facing with the FDA is offer a test directly to the consumer,” Genalyte CEO Cary Gunn said. His company is developing a way to rapidly test for diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis using a single drop of blood, a test Gunn expects to use only with a physician involved.
When it comes to genetic testing, there’s some information that’s just plain fun, while other information has the potential to be acted upon in a way that could change your health. Piraye Beim, the founder and CEO of Celmatix, a company that is working to bring personalised medicine to women’s health using genetics, made the analogy of a drug store, with both prescription and over-the-counter drugs as a way to differentiate what kinds of genetic information should be allowed to be shared and when.
“Just like there are drugs you have to order behind the counter and there are drugs that you can just pick up and walk to the front of the drugstore and check out with, I think genetic information’s like that too,” Beim said. Because as fascinating as it may be to learn you have a gene that predisposes you to a certain kind of disease on your commute home, it might be more comforting to learn that information at a doctor’s appointment, with the support of a physician who can talk you through it.
Patients who advocate for themselves
Gone are the days of doctors telling patients what to do and patients following that decision without question. And that might be a good thing.
“I think it’s always good for patients to know what’s going on and to advocate for themselves,”Braeburn Pharmaceuticals CEO Behshad Sheldon said.
That’s going to happen in everything from diabetes to cancer. Steve Kafka, the president of Foundation Medicine, which uses gene sequencing and data analysis to help treat cancer, said that for the latter, it will have everything to do with having access to information.
“Ultimately it will be about the patient having the direct access to really what is going on with my own cancer, and what are my options for what I can do about that.”
But with this increased information — and the hope of new drugs that want to shake up how we treat disease — there will also be a need for more education about new products. And that includes communicating how much new medications might cost.
“We just need to do a better job of highlighting those [innovative] things,” said Bob Radie the CEO of Egalet, a company that makes abuse-deterrent opioid painkillers. “I don’t think the industry has a good rap right now.”
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