Jim Boulton
Jim Boulton
Deputy Managing Director

Power to the patient

I was reading in The Independent last week about a simple new test that can detect the onset of Alzheimer’s with 93% accuracy. The fact that this test can be perfomed at home without medical supervision prompted me to see what other home testing kits existed.
I was expecting to find blood pressure monitors, pregnancy, allergy and cholesteral testing kits but was amazed to discover home tests that can detect conditions including colon cancer, prostate cancer, stds, the menopause, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid problems, anaemia, stomach ulcers, diabetes and the list goes on.

I was so enthused by this discovery and the implications on the healthcare and pharma industry that I bought a book, “The Innovator’s Prescription” by Clayton M Christensen. Furthermore, I read it. In it, Christensen talks about the typical pattern of innovation - things start complicated and expensive and gradually get simpler and cheaper. For example, the telegraph became the fixed line phone, which in turn became the cell phone. Similarly, it used to be very complicated to produce and sell albums in the music business and as such only a limited number of companies participated. PCs, the Internet and the MP3 format now mean that almost anybody can create, promote and distribute music from their bedroom. YouTube and digital cameras have done the same thing for video, the same has happened to desktop publishing and exactly the same thing is happening in the medicial diagnostic industry.

Improved diagnostics means that treatment is becoming less intuitive, less based on personal experience and more based on process. In these cases, treatment can be given by nurses, caregivers and the patients themselves, rather than doctors. Improved diagnostics also means more precise medicine, which will herald the end of blockbuster drugs and treatments (which is re-enforced by increased competition from generic drug manufacturers). This means there will be a fundamental shift in the way pharmaceutical and healthcare companies operate. We are already seeing “dis-integration”, the outsourcing of research, clinical trials and drug development for example, reducing the costs of entry and resulting in a more crowded marketplace. We are also seeing increasing communication directly with the patient and more and more patients forming online communities and talking directly to each other. These developments demand authentic, differentiated brand positions that resonate with the patient, an area in which the healthcare industry, with a few notable exceptions, is way behind.

In short, the availability of simpler and more accurate diagnostics, more data, more sophisticated information and improved decision making tools empower patients and caregivers to self-diagnose and self-treat. These patients will invariably use the Internet to talk to each other and pool data, improving diagnosis and treatment further, resulting in more precise medicine, more competition and therefore the need for more meaningful brands. And the cycle continues.

Photo thanks to Jim Frazier

  • http://www.steve-harlow.com Steve Harlow

    Very interesting post. I was aware that more “home testing” resources for various things has been on the rise, but was not aware of the extent until this post.

    This increase should be a clear signal also to the folks on Capitol Hill, that the trend is to get away from the high dollar doctor visits. People want more control, and more choice in their healthcare requirements. I see these personal testing and homecare choices as a huge benefit to those that are sick of being run through the “medical mill” in order to inflate costs through unneccesary treatments and tests. A huge reason that our insurance rates are so high now.

    Advances in technology in just the last 50 years is astounding. Medicine has evolved from the country doctor, to it’s present hi tech state. In the next 20 years, I think you will see technolgy available to all, that will allow you to simply connect yourself to your computer, via something like a fingertip BP monitor, and go to the doctor online, and see real time testing, and treatment options without ever leaving your house.

    Very cool stuff, and a very good article Jim. Thanks for the info.

  • http://www.storyworldwide.com Jim Boulton

    Hi Steve, thanks for the comment, more precise testing combined wth patients owning their own medical records will transform the healthcare industry in exactly the way you describe and within a decade at the outside. For example, Google have already done a deal with IBM that will result in wi-fi enabled radio transmitters in heart-rate monitors, blood pressure cuffs, scales etc. that upload data directly to Google Health.

    More about the subject here http://www.postadvertising.com/post/2009/05/25/Health-20-and-Personal-Health-Records.aspx