Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Do-It-Yourself Healthcare Improves Cost-Effectiveness in the United States

By Holly GracePublished March 23, 2016

In a country that spends a large portion of its GDP on healthcare, the cost-effectiveness of this care is extremely lacking, causing people to turn to Do-It-Yourself products to diagnose their illnesses. Startup companies are embracing this opening in the market by developing new apps and other forms of technology for consumers to use.

The United States federal government reports that the country spends over $3 trillion on healthcare, but the industry fails to be cost-effective with its care. Citizens see other forms of business progressing rapidly, and now they are looking to the healthcare industry to do the same.
As populations continue to increase faster than the number of physicians, the demand for primary care physicians will be greater than the supply. As a consequence, do-it-yourself health care is beginning to take over more of the healthcare industry because of its ability to be used by large numbers of people without the costs and wait of traditional healthcare. A few companies have started to catch on to this new trend and, while not replacing the role of physicians, are making good healthcare more accessible and cost-effective.
One major benefit of do-it-yourself healthcare is the ability to personalize your care. Whether it is through fitness plans, hearing problems, skin issues, or other personal problems, these devices and apps will allow physicians to monitor their patients more accurately and consistently. By monitoring patients remotely, physicians can provide care without needing to schedule an in-person appointment.
Audicus, Opernative, and First Derm are three of the many businesses trying to get ahead in this new development of health care. Audicus is working to help hearing aid patients by using smartphones and Bluetooth's to reduce the cost of giving audio tests. Opernative is trying to deliver eye exams over the internet, and First Derm is providing a way to send a photo of your skin to a dermatologist and get a diagnosis within 48 hours for a much smaller fee than a visit to their office.
While economists might argue that this is will benefit the healthcare industry, there is also a great risk that this will lead to misdiagnoses, loss of jobs for physicians, compromised care, and other negative effects. This development can be seen as an advance in the medical industry because it allows patients to hold their doctors more accountable and give them more access to health information. It could, however, lead to less accurate information due to inaccurate interpretation of results or human error due to lack of training. While doctors are required to attend many years of school in order to give diagnoses, these new apps and forms of technology will allow people who have never learned about human health to determine whether they have an illness and how to treat it.
Another risk of shifting the healthcare industry to a technologically based market is the increase in capitalism and incentive for profit. App developers and product manufacturers will potentially focus on increasing profits rather than improving quality of health. This could lead to apps that manipulate results and produce biased diagnoses to consumers. Doctors are not incentivized to tell patients that they have one illness over another, but if app developers begin to be sponsored by pharmaceutical companies then there is the potential for diagnoses to be influenced.
While the progression into more do-it-yourself care could be part of a great solution for the shortage of primary care physicians, the transition must be watched carefully and policies enacted to make sure that the quality of care is not compromised as the cost-efficiency is increased.