Patient: “Heal thyself”

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FHI editorial team

Sep 21, 2016 - reading time 5 mins

By Diana Manos

Healthcare, Tech and Political Journalist


Diana Manos has been covering healthcare policy issues for trade publications for twenty years, with the past ten focusing mainly on health IT. She was senior editor at HIMSS Media from 2006-2014, writing daily for healthcare executives and chief information officers in Healthcare IT News and Government Health IT. You can read her articles, published regularly, in Health Data Management, Healthcare IT News and Meritalk. She is a thought leader on health IT, with an avid Twitter following (@Diana_Manos). Her healthcare policy stories have appeared in the Washington Post, Health Leaders magazine, Hospitals and Health Networks magazine and more. She has been the recipient of several writing awards including the Jesse H. Neal Award for editorial honors in the field of specialized journalism and the American Society of Business Publication Editors Award.

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These are exciting times. Humanity is on the very brink of opening up ways for patients - using data they collect themselves about their health - to transform the practice of medicine, and ultimately, health outcomes.

Doctor devoted the data to a laptop

In the United States, that is very much the goal: to use health information technology (IT) to improve population health. Several significant policies and regulations, namely the Electronic Health Record Incentive Program and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) have been aimed at just that. In fact, all of the regulations stemming from ACA are moving America away from paying providers for the volume of care provided, toward the value of care they provide. An overhaul of the American healthcare reimbursement system is dramatically underway; one that focuses on getting patients involved, improving outcomes and lowering the cost of healthcare, all at the same time.


Underlying all of these efforts to change and improve population health is IT. Data can create change, and data is best stored and exchanged electronically. Some might even say, health data can only be effectively exchanged electronically.

Health data helps

Patients, physicians and society all agree: health data helps. But who should collect it? No one can deny that data collected close to the source (the patient), on a daily basis, is valuable information. Yet, it is a struggle to transform an entire culture based on the notion that only healthcare providers are responsible for health. Patients, for the most part, have been passive. They show up at the doctor – if at all – and the doctor tells them what to do. Now, some of them, but by far not enough of them, are starting to awaken to the idea of getting involved in their own health.


This awakening is important, because diseases are preventable – especially chronic diseases, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Chronic diseases are responsible for 7 of 10 U.S. deaths each year, while treating people with chronic diseases accounts for 86 percent of America’s healthcare costs, CDC says.


The U.S. emphasis on value-based healthcare is forcing Americans to recognize that not only for personal longevity and quality of life – but for national financial stability, as well — healthcare should start with patients. And now, an additional incentive is added: doctors will be financially rewarded for preventing illness before it starts. But to do that, they will need to get patients to care about their own health. “Patient empowerment” has become a buzz word, but it hasn’t quite become realized—at least not yet.

Could patients do better?

A new report, the Future Health Index1, has revealed that the U.S. is not alone in the desire to improve population health against some difficult odds. The study, based on responses from more than 25,000 patients and 2,659 healthcare professionals from 13 countries found a disconnect between what patients believe is happening and what physicians see happening, when it comes to patient empowerment. The Future Health Index research found that 74 percent of patients felt they were actively managing their health, while 75 percent of the doctors surveyed said that patients need to take a more active role.

Future Health Index_Patient Health thyself

According to a recent article published in Forbes magazine, Americans are ready and willing to use apps to collect health data. In fact, they trust apps more than they trust their own doctors, the article says. This may not be encouraging to doctors, but it does show the willingness of Americans to use apps to collect health data and to participate in keeping themselves healthy. As the common saying goes, “if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” Participation in improved health – and the associated empowerment – requires data collection and analyzation, even on the personal level.


Could the problem possibly be that the disconnect is technical? There are hundreds of thousands of apps on the market today, but it is still difficult to overcome the hurdles that keep the information gathered on apps from effectively being shared with physicians via electronic health records (EHRs). Health Level Seven International (HL7) – along with other private companies and organizations— are working diligently on finding a way for apps to be interoperable with other software programs, including EHRs. One of the ways is through application program interfaces, or APIs, the routines, protocols and tools used to build software applications. Even when APIs evolve, privacy and policy issues will still be a hurdle to be overcome. But the hope is out there.

Bridging the gap with apps

Consider Moore’s Law, which says that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years. In layman’s terms, that means – humans are making computers stronger and more powerful at a very fast rate in time. Then, consider the world ten years ago – when EHRs were only just taking hold. Now in the U.S., they are used by the majority of healthcare providers


Imagine what will happen when health data can finally make the leap from apps to EHRs without difficulty or resistance. Population health will soar.

Doctor and nurse reviewing data on digital tablet

The World Health Organization (WHO) has said for years, there’s no time to waste.  Chronic disease is consuming the world’s resources and destroying lives. “Through investing in vigorous and well-targeted prevention and control now, there is a real opportunity to make significant progress and improve the lives of populations across the globe,” said Lee Jong-wook, WHO director-general, in WHO’s 2005 report, Preventing Chronic Diseases: a vital investment.


The desire is there, and the potential is there, to change population health. Within a relatively short time, healthcare consumers world-wide, with apps in hand, will be able to improve their health and that of their countries. And their doctors will be able to help them.

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