Posted: 26 Jan. 2021 8 min. read

The road to DIY consumer health leads to the Future of Health

By Lynne Sterrett, national leader for Life Sciences and Health Care, Deloitte Consulting, LLP 

On January 13, I took part in a panel discussion at the all-digital Consumer Electronics Show 2021 where I showcased our latest research into consumer health trends. My session, The Road to DIY Consumer Health, was moderated by Dr. Mehmet Oz (of the Dr. Oz Show) and included a panel of innovators who are all helping consumers take control of their own health and well-being.

Moving the consumer firmly to the center of the health care system is at the heart of our vision for the Future of HealthTM. Over the next 20 years, we expect that treating illnesses and injuries will be secondary to helping people improve or maintain their well-being. This includes their physical and mental health, as well as their social, emotional, spiritual, and even financial health. Dr. Oz called this a “beautiful vision”—not just at the individual level, but also at the aggregate level where entire populations could experience improvements in health and well-being.

For the past 12 years, the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions has surveyed consumers about their health care perceptions and experiences. Last year, our survey results showed that consumers are learning more about their well-being and their health risks. They are also communicating with their doctors in new ways and are changing their attitudes about how to use and share their health data. Many of the trends we highlighted in our most recent report were exemplified by my fellow panelists.

Kristen Valdes, CEO and founder of b.well Connected Health, agreed that empowering consumers will change our existing health care system. Health care, she explained, is fragmented, and the experience with technology to date has been mixed. As the sector embraced digital technology and tried to move closer to a retail experience, many consumers and clinicians have become overwhelmed with apps, portals, and passwords. However, she was optimistic that the recently enacted interoperability rules could make it easier for consumers to control their entire health record, including data generated by wearable devices. The regulations, which went into effect on January 1, intend to make it easier for patients to access certain claims and encounter information (including costs) in a readily shareable format. b.well has already built the digital infrastructure to make that happen, and Kristen says health systems and health plans are making the app available to their patients and members to help them take control of their health care journey.

Three trends driving DIY consumer health

Here are three trends highlighted during the session—and in our research—that I expect will further empower consumers to play a bigger role in their own health and well-being:

1. At-home devices and diagnostic tools will become more common: At-home tests, apps, mobile devices, and related technologies are giving consumers new ways to diagnose, monitor, and manage their health. The possibilities are endless. As my colleague Mike Delone noted in his January 12 blog, the Food and Drug Administration recently approved the first at-home COVID-19 test. As diagnostic tools become more accessible, we expect consumers will grow more accustomed to monitoring their health at home. According to our latest survey, between 30% and 50% of consumers are comfortable using at-home diagnostics. Consumers overall say they are most comfortable using at-home tests for diagnosing infections. But there are some generational differences. For example, we found that just 24% of seniors were comfortable using at-home genetic tests and 28% said they would be comfortable using an at-home blood test to track their health. By contrast, nearly half of millennials and Gen Z consumers said they would be comfortable using those tests at home.

  • Steven LeBoeuf, Ph.D. is president and co-founder of Valencell, which develops biometric sensors for consumers and medical wearables. He said people who can measure blood pressure at home a couple times a day tend to have better health outcomes. He also noted that many companies, including his, have developed, or are investing in, technology to passively measure blood pressure through an always-on wearable device. That could make it possible for consumers see if a medication or change in diet is having an effect. Monitoring blood pressure could help detect common diseases such as hypertension, which affects about half of all American adults.
  • Alison Darcy, Ph.D, founder and president of Woebot Health, discussed access challenges for people who face mental health issues such as depression, sadness, and anxiety. She said the average length of time between the onset of symptoms and seeing a clinician is 11 years. Her company developed a “conversational agent” (similar to a chatbot) that uses machine learning and natural language processing to help users manage mental health issues at home.

2. Wearable devices will do more than count steps: Wearable fitness devices continue to evolve and are getting better at tracking our steps and activities. They are also beginning to track more than our activities. The data generated by devices on our wrists, our fingers, embedded in our clothes, or even in our bodies will provide unprecedented insight into our health and well-being, which will allow us to identify illnesses long before we feel any symptoms. Our latest survey found that consumers appear to be more willing to share health data—including data generated by wearable devices—than they were prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our survey also found that Gen Z and millennials are more likely than older generations to believe that trackers change their behaviors.

  • Michael Chapp, chief operations officer of Oura, discussed a wearable ring that is embedded with a tiny battery and seven sensors that monitor heart rate, heart-rate variability, respiratory rate, motion, and skin temperature. The device, he said, accurately monitors the wearer’s sleep patterns, which could help nudge people to get more sleep. He noted that his father had been diagnosed with dementia. During his working years, he took great pride in working long hours and not sleeping much. Chapp says he wonders if more sleep could have helped him delay the onset of the disease.

 3. Consumers will be more willing to tell doctors when they disagree: Armed with more information about their health and conditions, 51% of those surveyed said they are likely to push back on recommendations from a clinician if they disagree. I thought it was interesting that older consumers are demonstrating the highest levels of engagement. According to our survey results, 63% of consumers born before 1946 are “extremely,” or “very likely” to tell their doctor if they disagree. That compares to just 46% of Generation Z consumers (those born in 1997 or later).

Incumbent companies are being disrupted by internal and external forces

During my session, I explained that Deloitte works with more than 90% of global FORTUNE 500 companies. All of our clients are now evaluating shifts that are taking place in health care and determining how they should respond. This is not limited to health care and life sciences companies! COVID-19 has demonstrated that health is every company’s business right now.

This convergence of industries is playing out in the choices that organizations are making, the acquisitions that they are involved with, and the products they are designing and backing. As incumbent companies look for ways to disrupt their own processes, they are facing external disruptions from newer and more nimble competitors. The more traditional companies might be constrained by orthodoxies and legacy infrastructure.

The pandemic helped to fuel a tremendous shift in innovation and has accelerated many of the elements we outlined in our vision for the Future of Health. I’m excited about attending future CES shows in-person and can’t wait to watch new health care innovations move us further along the road to DIY consumer health.