As the Medicare and Medicaid debate continues to unfold, everyone seems to agree that, for people who need the government healthcare programs, the programs are literally vital and no one wants to turn their backs on recipients. However, everyone also agrees that the programs, and healthcare in general, are getting too expensive. As a result, much of the debate is centered on lowering both the cost of the program and the cost of the healthcare system without putting strain on current beneficiaries. Obama has, of course, passed Obamacare with the goal of lowering reimbursement rates for certain types of care, reworking Medicare Advantage policies, and forcing uninsured, healthy people to buy insurance. Romney has floated a number of proposals including giving complete autonomy to the states with a block-grant, means-testing Medicare (similar to how Medicaid is run), and premium assistance, or vouchers, for insurance policies.
However, beyond the policy debates, there are real discussions about how to lower healthcare costs. Historically, people have looked toward new technology to keep medical records electronically and perform preventative tests. Consumers have resorted to WebMD (which has an app, called Medscape) and other sites to self-diagnose their ailments, especially uninsured consumers. Now, for better or worse, both methods can be combined into a mechanical physician who fits in your pocket!
Individuals can now track all sorts of their own physical attributes and responses. Asthma sufferers can use AsthmaSense to track their medications and monitor their symptoms. People can monitor their heart rate, their sleeping habits, glucose levels, breathing, and a whole host of other physiological changes. From there, individuals can attempt to treat their own ailments by seeking alternative remedies, also available in apps. The apps are becoming so pervasive that Robert Reich quipped that apps are putting many workers out of a job, saying, “At this rate, 50 years from now, a tiny machine may satisfy all our needs. Call it the “iEverything.” The only problem: none of us will be able to afford it because we’ll all be unemployed.”
Other apps, like VaxNation aim to help individuals keep track of treatments they’ve received, in this case vaccinations. Additionally, the app clues its users in to when new vaccinations may be needed or recommended. When you do need a physician, apps like Castlight can help you price shop and compare ratings for different physicians. Such apps should improve competition among providers by making healthcare consumers informed about their choices.
These days, even physicians are using mobile apps, like DrawMD and Visible Body to improve client interaction and to show patients how procedures will be done and ask patients what is ailing them. There are a number of expensive apps doctors can use to even help them make diagnoses and ask other physicians about troubling cases. The trend is still in its infancy, and it remains to be seen how it will actually impact the price or quality of care, but it seems likely that smartphones and tablets will pay an increasing role in your healthcare at home and in the physician’s office.