The current U.S. population is over three hundred million and growing. This number is served by a healthcare system that was initially created in the 1900s. While healthcare has certainly evolved and changed in the past century since, much is still very antiquated. It is costing our country and citizens trillions of dollars each year. In 2017, we spent $3.5 trillion on healthcare, or roughly $11,000 person. By 2027, it’s expected to climb to $6 trillion, or $17,000 per person.
These numbers would not be as alarming if the health of our people matched the cost. But, America ranks among the lowest in health among all developed countries. We’re spending nearly as much on healthcare each year as we have on multiple wars since 2001. Yet, our population is sicker than it has ever been. It’s only getting worse.
To grasp just how staggering the numbers are, studies show that two-thirds of people who file for bankruptcy in America list medical-related issues as the cause. Healthcare expenses are straining state budgets; drawing from other equally important needs like public education and infrastructure. Taxpayers have been willing to allow increases to help keep America healthy. But, it isn’t working. The healthcare system cannot continue to operate as it is. We cannot keep spending more money each year, yet see such poor health outcomes.
The healthcare industry and our government are trying to improve the system. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was an attempt to implement change. The shift to value-based care has promise. Technology presents a solution as well.
However, there is a third, very critical piece to making the healthcare system better. Healthcare must also become more consumer-oriented. It must be more consumer-friendly, easier to access and use, and meet the true needs of people. Currently, it is not. The rise of consumer and technology companies entering healthcare, like Walmart, Google and Apple, is encouraging. New innovation, ideas, and approaches are exactly what are needed. These companies also have experience in moving consumers, and driving consumer adoption of new concepts and products. Healthcare consumerization will force quality improvement and push costs down, as consumers take a more active role and seek value.
But, what may be surprising to many people is that one of the fastest growing healthcare technologies among consumers isn’t a ground-breaking new software app. It’s not chat bots or website interfaces. It’s actually one of the oldest communications technologies used today, invented in 1992: Text messaging. The average American today uses this technology at least 94 times a day, or over 33,000 times a year. In fact, consumers rely so greatly on text messaging that many now prefer it to voice calls and email.
Text messaging is easy to use, accessible and inexpensive for virtually every American, regardless of age, income, or geography. 95% of Americans have a phone that can send or receive a text message. Text messages don’t require immediate attention and interaction. Messages never expire, and can be deleted at any time. There is no need to update a home address with a change in location. Video, images and other files are easy to send, receive, and review. And, it is available in any language. Anytime, anywhere, around the world.
Millions of people use text messaging technology for this reason. It’s not surprising that it is becoming a key solution in the consumerization of healthcare as well. When given the option by healthcare providers and plans to communicate via text messages, many consumers choose to do so. In preventative care and engaging patients, it has enormous potential. We know that when people are more active in their health, healthcare works better for them.
It’s something we see everyday at my company. Many of our clients have patients who are multicultural, multilingual, and they text. They don’t answer calls, and they don’t really use email. But, send them the right text message, and great (and very valuable) conversations happen. These patients are often hourly workers with limited time, access, and money.
Like many Americans, they are frustrated by the healthcare system, and find it challenging to make the best choices for their families. Especially when facing many of the financial, linguistic, and time constraints placed on them by their daily lives.
Reminding them about preventative care and vaccinations, or answering questions and helping them find solutions used to be difficult. Texting can help. And, even more importantly, it is more cost-efficient than many traditional engagement types.
To be clear, texting doesn’t replace a doctor’s visit. It’s the tool to get patients in the door. We’ve found that parents are three-times more likely to bring their kids in for well child exams when contacted by a text message instead of a call. There has also been increased use of preventative care, and improved patient satisfaction.
When we help consumers participate in their health, provide tools they can use and understand, and give them customer attention as any other business would, they respond. In healthcare, this has the potential to save lives, and change the healthcare system.
Yet, despite the early success of text messaging in healthcare today, the industry as a whole still struggles to integrate texting. Like many innovations and technologies, texting is limited by out-of-date laws, some of which predate its invention. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) was written thirty years ago. Today, it constrains the potential of text messaging in healthcare.
The restraints placed on the health sector by antiquated regulations and laws lower healthcare outcomes. It hurts everybody, from taxpayers to patients.
While technology itself can’t fix healthcare, it can create a more effective healthcare system. But for technology to reach its full potential, legislation and regulation needs to catch up. It doesn’t mean more or fewer laws. It means that regulators, and the laws that guide them, need to join the 21st century, where the health landscape is markedly different. Legislation needs to give technology the room it needs to demonstrate the level of positive impact possible.
What we know about consumers and innovation is that both ultimately drive the world we are in, whether we empower it or not. Disruption and new ideas have evolved industries since the dawn of time because people make the choice. It won’t be any different in healthcare.
Consumer behavior and choice will push the boundaries of text messaging and other technology regulations. We will have no choice but to adapt our system and laws. Rather than wait until demand forces the change, our healthcare and government can lead and move the system forward. Our government can recognize that innovation can help. Healthcare, technology and government can work together to bring a new future.
Innovators and leaders today are already trying to help adapt text messaging with current regulations so that healthcare and consumers can benefit. As a result, early adopter health plans and providers are seeing lower costs, greater efficiency, and better health outcomes. Patients are responding to the ease, familiarity and flexibility of engagement through text messaging. They feel less polarized by the system, and are living healthier lives as a result.
Text messaging is already changing healthcare, and it’s exciting. We must continue to allow and help it to do so.