There are many choices we make over the course of our lives. Some are fairly insignificant, like the clothes we put on in the morning; others, such as the vocations we settle on, have life-changing consequences. But there’s one critical decision we don’t get to make: the choice of being born into a human body—and all the arbitrary ailments and inevitable biological breakdowns that follow.
This is what sets health care apart from other industries. The business of medicine is quite literally one of life and death. And throughout much of the world, it remains a messy, inefficient, expensive sector in need of radical reform.
Just consider some of the heart-wrenching numbers. Nearly one in four non-elderly American adults had past-due medical debt in 2015. That’s actually an improvement from 2012, when the figure was closer to 30% (insurance coverage gains under the Affordable Care Act are one likely reason for the decline). In Mississippi, more than 37% of the population owed money to care providers in 2015. Medical expenses are the top driver of personal bankruptcies. And last year the federal government projected that the nation’s health care bill would top $10,000 per person for the first time in history.
So what do we get for these extravagant private and public costs? A system where it takes weeks to see a doctor face-to-face, where more than 6,500 locales are officially deemed to have too few medical professionals to meet patients’ needs, and where U.S. health outcomes are consistently mediocre compared with those of many of our developed-nation peers (and even some of the less developed ones).
This status quo is ripe for disruption. And while true reform will require all the relevant parties—government, industry, and health care consumers themselves—to make major adjustments, an insurgent group of digital health companies is doing its best to drag American medicine into the 21st century kicking and screaming.
Illustration Credit: Fortune