Health, Like Our Salvation, Is Up to Us (with Some Help from Tech)

There's an interesting symbolic connection that I see between health care and religion. In the context of this conversation, it's completely metaphorical, but it's an apt metaphor nonetheless.

Until the middle of the 15th Century, people experienced religion in a house of worship where believers had access to God — because that's where he lived. A priest or other man of God connected people to the Supreme Being. Something interesting happened, though, with one of humankind's most important technological advances — the printing press. The printing press made the word of God portable, to be experienced anywhere. This was far beyond a step change, radically altering the access, experience, and interpretation of faith for individuals.

Health care is experiencing a similar transformation, where care used to "happen" in a medical facility, it can now occur anywhere with access to the internet. Technology is turning the architecture of health care on its head. I am not just talking about Virtual Health, a universal reality post COVID. I am talking about real-time, personalized care that lures new users, focuses on engagement, and lifts metrics at an individual level. But there's something else that's even more critical — the ability to steer our health and take charge through digital interfaces and personalized experiences. I predict that today's idea of health care may be unrecognizable in 10 years, if not sooner.

80 Percent of Our Health is Determined by Our Behavior

It turns out our health, like our salvation, is mostly up to us. The single largest determinant of health is not genetics, clinical care; it's our behavior — how we choose to live, what we eat, our beliefs, and our choice of lifestyle. Considering 20 percent of our $4 trillion GDP goes to health care, managing down even a few basis points in healthier behavior can potentially save billions of dollars not to mention lives. Before the influx of technology, by and large providers in a temple of health, aka a doctor's office or hospital administered health care. Now, people will not only have access to their personal health information but also individualized behavior-changing guidance.

Even though I'm writing this in the future tense, a few apps are already available doing this. These digital tools shape our behavior with precision psychology and behavioral change management over longer spans of time. And once we solve for sustained, improved behavior, other health care factors become ancillary. The significance of that development cannot be overstated.

Where is Health Care Heading?

I predict that we'll see much of what revolutionized the retail industry — from travel and leisure to food and apparel — shape health care with a wave of personalized mobile-first experiences, fundamentally changing how we experience health care and take charge of our own journey.

I've outlined a few factors making real-time/any-time, individualized health care a reality.

  1. Health care consumerism

    What's new:
    As technology enables people to take charge of their health, a growing trend toward overseeing mental health and overall wellness is also emerging. Heightened increase in anxiety (up three times year-over-year) exacerbated by the COVID Pandemic and a welcomed openness to discussing mental health, coupled with a practitioner shortage are fueling both supply and demand for mobile-first personal experiences.

    What it means:
    A new generation of apps and other digital tools augment the provider experience, amplify the role of community, and simplify self-care. Apps such as Noom, Calm, and Headspace are some of the well-known consumer brands that have pioneered the space and commercialized successfully. The results have proven effective for weight management, stress management, sleep disorder, eating disorder, smoking secession, or mental wellness.
  2. Evolving regulatory landscape

    What's new:
    Not only is personal health information available to consumers, but interoperability will allow health systems, providers, payors, and peer organizations to share patient records. Together with FDA's newly established Digital Therapeutic Prescriptions Authorization process and AI experimentation, the regulators are helping a new wave of innovation be commercialized and accessed safely.

    What it means:
    What currently involves frustration, faxing and phone calls will soon be as simple as accessing your digital health footprint on a personalized app, including traditional and digital prescriptions, thanks to standardized API infrastructure and regulations that compel providers to be more proactive in "Care" and patients in matters of their own "Health".
  3. Rise of digital therapeutics

    What's new:
    Before, patients often left health care appointments empty handed without completely understanding their condition. Soon, digital prescriptions will be available to address conditions from chronic diseases (affecting 60 percent of American adults), addiction, suicide, and more.

    What it means:
    In the future, your doctor may write you a digital therapeutic prescription — like Pear Therapeutics, Akili, Apple, Lilly, and Better Therapeutics. The results are proving very effective in fighting opioid addiction, diabetes, and hypertension.
  4. AI usage by providers and payers

    What's new:
    If you follow the health tech space, you know AI powers machines that predict, learn, and solve complex problems, accelerating drug discovery, and improving clinical-trial, robotic-surgery accuracy, and so much more.

    What it means:
    AI insights will unlock tailor-made therapies and medicine. The data won't be relegated to scholarly papers, but available on your app as it applies to you. I have discussed the impact of AI in health care at length in an earlier piece.

A Benediction for Health Care

Once we see how technology can reinvent core aspects of our lives, it's impossible to expect to go back to the old ways. A model to follow, then, would include ubiquitous access to health data, experienced as intuitively as any iPhone or Android app. The apps should provide interactivity to keep patients engaged and demonstrate they're receiving individualized care, are informed, and kept motivated and engaged in the long run.

Just as print technology reinvented worship, the changes on the horizon will bring us closer our own health, helping us influence our own destiny dispensed down from the heavens via the cloud.


"Health, Like Our Salvation, Is Up to Us (with Some Help from Tech)." Shiva Mirhosseini, Digital Experience and Marketing Technology Executive. November 2021.