The signposts of health, everywhere - where we live, work, play, pray, and shop -- are multiplying. Ads for 23andMe stream on satellite radio and television. Drug store clinics immunize and complete back-to-school health forms. Grocery stores are hiring nutritionists. Fitbit, Jawbone, Nike and a growing number of wristbands compete for our wrists for self-tracking activity. Signs boasting "Best Hospitals" listed in U.S. News & World Report appear in shopping malls, where major medical centers are siting urgent care centers.
Speaking of shopping, the public Health Insurance Exchanges launch for comparison-shopping on October 1, 2013. These insurance marketplaces will enable un- and under-insured Americans to assess health plans offered by competing commercial insurance companies operating in their states. Beyond the public exchanges, more working people whose employers have sponsored health insurance, such as IBM and Walgreens will be channeling workers to private health insurance exchanges.
Welcome to DIY health, where Americans shoulder a greater responsibility for health decision making... and pay more, whether we like it or not.
We're already engaging in self-service in daily life. And, since the recession hit in October 2008, we're cooking more at home, watching more food shows on television, doing more home improvement projects and planting more in our gardens. We develop photos on Shutterfly and Snapfish, build playlists in the iTunes Store, and welcome the UPS driver with packages we ordered online, from Amazon to Zappos.
As U.S. health consumers, we are paying greater health costs out-of-pocket, while looking for self-service in health, too. An Accenture survey found that nine out of 10 U.S. adults want to use self-service options in health, including accessing health information themselves, as well as scheduling and refilling prescriptions online. Mobile platforms, namely smartphone and tablet apps, enable us to price-compare prescription drugs versus generics, get a quick piece of medical advice, and even triage ourselves to make the decision whether to seek emergency or urgent care.
We can also access our personal health information more readily these days, with a growing number of physicians adopting electronic health records. Americans have data rights under the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) that compel health providers to give us our health data when we request it. That's also getting easier because doctors who are adopting health records have an incentive to "engage" with us and our health information. Health insurance companies, too, are increasingly opening up the health-data kimono to give us access to our health information through patient portals. Blue Button, the evolving information protocol developed within the Veterans Health Administration, will be expanding for Americans at large to use in 2014, allowing people to download or print their health information.
In the U.S., we are at a fork in the health-care road: we can choose to let health care happen to us in the labyrinthine, bureaucratic health system whose default is expensive institutional care delivered in hospitals and clinics. Or, we can fight like heck to stay well and get smart about how to deal with the health system before we get sick and need it.
Think about this as Slow Health, akin to the Slow Food movement. Slow Health requires we spend more time thinking through daily decisions that skew toward health and away from fast food, fast decisions (like parking the car close to our workplace entrance or not taking the stairs), and bad influences on our health status (like binge drinking, smoking and inactivity). Slow Health takes just a bit more mindfulness and thought. But a little dose of that every day can help us move the needle on our own health, and because health is social, the health of our loved ones and community.
Welcome to DIY health.
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