Diabetes cost estimate yet another reason to embrace mobile health

In her most recent column, FierceHealthPayer editor Dina Overland wonders if anyone was paying attention to a UnitedHealth Group report that said diabetes would cost what passes for a U.S. healthcare system an unconscionable $3.35 trillion between now and 2020. (Yes, $3.35 trillion.)

"Why aren't people talking about such a staggering and potentially debilitating cost to healthcare? Have we become so desensitized about escalating healthcare expenditures that we dismiss the issue--despite UnitedHealth describing diabetes as a 'time bomb'?" Overland writes.

I'd like to offer another theory, one that I've been building on for the past several weeks: People are applying 20th Century thinking to a 21st Century problem. Just like throwing more money at the dysfunctional fee-for-service paradigm passes for "healthcare reform" because politicians and a significant segment of the population believe insurance equals care, there seems to exist a mentality that we're hopelessly stuck on a parabolic, upward spending curve.

But one story in today's FierceMobileHealthcare offers some hope. We report that wireless technology that actively monitors patient behavior--in this case, "smart" pill bottles--when used in conjunction with telephone counseling, helps improve medication compliance. Two quotes in particular jump out at me: "Medication adherence doesn't really change with education about the disease or the drug," according to University of Missouri nursing professor Cynthia Russell. "What works is this whole idea of self-monitoring."

Russell later adds: "We're probably spending too much time focusing on patient education, and we probably need to focus on these kinds of techniques to help patients actually change their medication adherence."

Bingo. Telling people how they should act doesn't seem to do much. Showing them real data and offering real-time tracking and reminders does. When correctly applied, wireless and mobile technology can break us out of dangerous but deeply ingrained patterns.

Overland implores the payer community to "please rise to the occasion." I'd like to second that motion, and extend the invitation to the entire healthcare industry and to the public at large. Please rise to the occasion and move into the 21st Century already. - Neil