imageThere’s a lot of talk about the growing platform economy. If well-designed platforms get adopted in healthcare, they may help our ailing healthcare systems get better.

The quality, safety, and convenience of healthcare in America suffer from a lack of patients’ personal health data being essentially locked in data siloes. The diagnosis is lack of data “liquidity:” the ability for our health information generated in various touch points in the healthcare system and in our personal lives each day to move outside of the locations where the bits and bytes were first created: to our clinicians, researchers, health providers, and to us, as patients, consumers, and caregivers. The call for “Data Liberacion!” was coined by Todd Park (former Chief Technology Officer for the U.S.) in 2010, representing the excitement among those of us who’ve long worked in health IT for data liquidity. 

Our data about our selves are created in labs, prescription drug claims systems, hospitals’ and doctors’ electronic health records, school health records, public health databases, retail clinics, retailers, and via peoples’ activity trackers and apps. If this information stays put in the information systems where they are borne, then the promise of personalized medicine — let alone, optimal, evidence-based diagnoses based on the latest research and all relevant information about us — will languish.

Platforms use information networks and open computer programming  codes to help get to data liquidity, freeing information through the use of application programming interfaces (APIs) where they are available. Think of this as a kind of shared economy — the shared economy of information.

After consuming a range of academic research and trade articles on the platform economy, I recently read the book The Platform Revolution written by a team based at MIT who have been working with platforms for a while. The book covers the general landscape of the topic, with a few pages discussing health care.

In theory, the platform economy could help address the challenge of data constraints often referred to as lack of “interoperability” in health care, notwithstanding the mass adoption of electronic health records in the US spawned by the multi $billion investment in the HITECH Act that was part of the ARRA Stimulus Bill. Now that patient data is largely digitized in EHRs, what next?

Some EHRs are walled gardens of patient data that stay put in localized health systems. Health plans have treasure troves of members’ data that comprise the medical claims world. Medical device companies track streams of data flowing out of implanted defibrillators and digital glucometers. And a growing group of health and fitness data ecosystems are continuous gathering information about people through health apps, nutrition tracking, and exercise. The likes of Apple, Google, Samsung, Under Armour, and other companies not traditionally seen as health care stakeholders are, indeed, growing forces in health data.

We can expect these players to grow platforms that have the potential to inform and inspire health decisions for health care providers and patients. Platforms for health will emerge from these new entrants in health and from some legacy players who have the foresight and resources to build them and work across the ecosystem with partners who have data on patients that lie outside of the traditional health “care” environment.

Health Populi’s Hot Points:  Putting on our health care forecasting hat, the platform economy will undoubtedly be a factor in the health economy over the next several years. At its best, the vision for this potential is positive and constructive.

Another emerging health data trend should be considered in light of the growing platform economy, and that is digital trust. As the health system embraces the reality that most of our health is created outside of the care system and where we live, work, play and pray — via the social determinants of health — our personal data will flow across platforms. Who will we trust to be our data stewards? There is evidence that as many US consumers trust retailers and digital companies as they trust health care providers. We can expect to see partnerships across these industry segments, feeding data-hungry platforms — between health care and grocers, retail pharmacy, retailers overall, media and entertainment, financial services. Consumers will value those partners who explicitly embrace digital trust in relationships.

You can hear more about platforms, digital trust, and other health data trends in the Accenture webcast with Dr. Kaveh Safavi and me tomorrow, June 28, at 11 am Eastern. If you’re keen to hear our brainstorm, do register here on Accenture’s link to the program.