The Supreme Court could rule on the Affordable Care Act — the health-care law spearheaded by President Barack Obama — any day now.
Nearly all eyes, in the media at least, are on the High Court, and there is no shortage of speculation as to when the ruling will come down and how the justices’ decision could impact the future of the health-care industry. It’s not just health-care insurers, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies that could be impacted by a potential change to or a complete strike-down of the law, the Supreme Court ruling will also impact the new generation of tech companies that are fundamentally changing how we think about health care.
If the Supreme Court does not strike down the law, the clear winners will be the tech innovators. These individuals are among those at the forefront of navigating the nation’s complex health-care system. Call this The Health care IT Scenario. It’s one in which VCs shift their attention to companies that help health-care providers slash costs, digitize their medical records and streamline the payment process to insurers.
Take, for example, Castlight, a Silicon Valley company that just raised a $100 million round of venture capital — one of the largest deals in the history of health-care IT. The goal of Castlight is to bring transparency to health-care costs by making it possible for employees to compare the cost and quality of a wide range of tests and procedures.
On the other hand, if the Supreme Court strikes down all or parts of the Affordable Care Act, there would be an opening for Mitt Romney's health-care vision to take root. As Romney outlined in a campaign speech Tuesday, he would use private sector tactics to transform health care into a "consumer market” much like the tire, automobile or air filter markets. That vision may not sound sexy (It’s time to rotate the tires, dear!). But it hints that the future of health-care innovation might shift to low-cost, high-quality medical devices that help us maintain good health and diagnose diseases and disorders. In their book “Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think”, Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler outline some of the "zero-cost diagnostics" that are reducing the cost of complex hospital tests to a couple of bucks.
There is another way, though, in which the health-care innovation landscape could stand to change, and it is potentially even more compelling: The tighter coupling of health care and mobile technology. Sometimes referred to as "mobile health" (mHealth), this third way requires thinking of health care as something that does not occur in a hospital environment, but as something that occurs in the palm of your hand via Web-enabled devices.
The mHealth movement, from a global perspective, is one of the most exciting trends in the health-care space for its ability to bring health-care coverage to people who previously did not have it. It has even resulted in a $10 million prize competition to develop the first medical tricorder. As areas like artificial intelligence heat up and as mobile operating systems become increasingly powerful, it’s easy to imagine a future in which the capabilities of IBM’s Watson are available as a diagnostic medical app, iPhones are transformed into medical devices such as ECGs, and medical data can be transmitted to doctors in real-time from digital devices hooked to your body.
Here’s hoping that the Supreme Court ruling does not impact the ability of Internet innovators who are fundamentally transforming how we think about medicine to continue with their groundbreaking new ideas. Faced with the prospect of health care as a "big, government-managed utility" or as a neighborhood tire and automobile parts shop, I’ll take my chances with the innovators of Silicon Valley.
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