The Future of Health Care Is Free-Market Tech

Published August 3, 2018

More than ever, success in the modern world depends on adaptation to new technologies. Nowhere is this more evident than in the field of health care. If the United States fails to advance its digital health care industry well beyond its current state, it will not remain the world’s leader in health care.

Recently, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted on a bipartisan basis to increase funding for the Universal Service Fund’s Rural Health Care Program by $171 million annually. The goal of the funding increase is to help rural health care providers develop a “telemedicine” infrastructure that targets rural citizens who lack easy access to medical services. As my colleague Matthew Glans notes, “Telemedicine is the use of information technology to remotely diagnose, treat, or monitor patients.

Although it may seem FCC is ahead of the curve, the United States is actually behind in worldwide telemedicine access. Recent comments from Jonathan Larsen, CIO of Ping An Group (PAG), demonstrate the massive initiatives to expand telemedicine in China. Larsen told Health Transformer China has developed a health care “ecosystem” that has grown into the world’s largest telemedicine platform — now with 192 million active users.

“We have about 5 million visitors engaging on health topics every day and about 500,000 users actually seeking medical consultations on a daily basis with the panel of about 9,000 doctors that we have,” Larsen said of PAG’s “Good Doctor” project. Although PAG works to support China’s state-run health system, it’s not hard to extrapolate what telemedicine might look like in a free-market environment. Under such a system, individual states, insurers, and physician-patient teams would hire developers to customize telemedicine products based on their unique needs.

Telemedicine could revolutionize health care delivery, just as smartphones have transformed how we communicate. For example, Apple has partnered with pharmacy giant Novartis to develop a new product for its ResearchKit platform to determine if smartphones can effectively be used in clinical drug and treatment trials.

This is necessary because the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) clinical trial process is painstakingly slow. It typically takes about 12 years for a new drug to reach consumers, and the entire process costs about $2.5 billion. Unfortunately, the failure rate for new drug trials is extraordinarily high due to problems with accurate data collection. Having a smart phone app such as ResearchKit could help increase the success rate of clinical trials by streamlining the patient-researcher communication process.

The future of health care lies in technological innovations, a reality some states have started to recognize. For instance, as Glans noted in April,

A proposal, introduced by Pennsylvania state Sen. Elder Vogel (R-Beaver), would dramatically expand the ability of telemedicine servicers to provide care by clearly defining telemedicine and the wide range of technologies and services it comprises. This would allow for a practitioner-patient relationship to be established remotely. Perhaps most importantly, the bill would also require health care payers provide reimbursements for telemedicine services at the same rate they pay for the same service in person. These reforms would provide substantial benefits to the state’s health care market.

Vogel’s bill passed the Pennsylvania Senate on June 15, and it will soon head to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

The United States needs to continue to embrace a free-market approach to telemedicine, but the only way that can occur is if government gets out of the way and allows health care providers to treat patients in the most effective and efficient way. If they do, Americans, especially those living in faraway rural regions, will reap the rewards, with greater access to cutting-edge technologies that will boost their health and wellness.

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