In healthcare, the patient-as-consumer mindset is taking hold as people begin to expect similar digital convenience and satisfying experiences from doctor visits, testing, procedures and payments to what they’re getting from retail experiences in every corner of commerce.

This is where the connected economy will make some of its biggest contributions to a healthcare system rife with care and cost inefficiencies. Lab work is great place to start.

“Part of the whole connected economy is bringing patients into the system earlier when they can be consumers, when they’re not sick,” said Max Cohen, CEO of Sprinter Health, a San Francisco startup that characterizes itself as a “boots-on-the-ground” clinician network that is “reimagining the last mile of healthcare” via in-home blood draws and other routine tests.

“Let’s get the data to track things, let’s do it in a way that [consumers and patients] feel comfortable that they own that data,” he said. “It’s being protected, and it’s not being used against them in any way.”

That focus on patient-customer experience is where connected healthcare holds some of its greatest promise, Cohen told PYMNTS’ Karen Webster.

“I don’t think that Disney should go into the hospital business, but I just imagine a pediatric hospital that was operated by Disney,” he said. “It would mean you’d have the characters around [and] pediatric cancer patients would not feel as isolated. It would just be an amazing experience.”

Noting studies showing that engagement in their care leads to better outcomes for patients, he added, “What we can do in healthcare is treat the people that we’re working with as the humans they are [and] not just a statistic about their disease. Let’s not just treat their disease; let’s engage with the people.”

Research supports this. Rectangle Health, for instance, found that “most consumers demand time-saving digital tools that make their in-office interactions more valuable and care-focused.”

Get the study: What Consumers Want From Their Healthcare Customer Experiences

Injecting Trust for Better Outcomes

Trust — or the lack of it — is a factor that’s holding back a more rapid connected evolution. Cohen called it an intractable problem.

“You might believe your doctor some of the time, but you’re also on WebMD or other sites trying to second guess your own care,” he said. “You don’t trust that the insurance companies have your back. You don’t trust that the government understands. There’s such a fundamental lack of trust, and then you add on the misinformation that happens to be out there for a lot of things.”

But Big Tech and mobile devices can help in precisely this area. Cohen said he envisions connected healthcare ecosystems, powered by up-to-date data gathered from people who trust smartphones and wearables more than they trust physicians or insurance companies.

That trust can translate to better health outcomes as patient-consumers become more willing to share health data digitally — a move that would accelerate connected healthcare by years.

Cohen, whose father is an oncologist, said the specialty lab space is a great place to start.

“There are lots of possible therapies for cancer treatment, but some are going be more effective, and some are going be more toxic,” he said. “Rather than just trying to go off of essentially very, very educated guesses, being able to have hard data available can be really transformational.”

Using data to connect the dots of connected healthcare is easier said than done, but solutions like Sprinter Health are moving in the right direction, giving patients a better experience while gathering deeper insights that will help them make better healthcare decisions, Cohen said.

See also: AI Is Turning Connected Devices Into Healthcare’s Next Big Thing

The Emergence of ‘Health Assurance’

Sprinter Health is gaining traction, evidenced by its $33 million investment round last month led by Andreessen Horowitz and including General Catalyst, Google Ventures (GV) and others.

Sprinter and other innovators are looking to follow in the footsteps of telehealth providers, which have seen growth mushroom during the pandemic. Cohen said he believes the growth of last-mile solutions will speed the creation of truly connected healthcare, starting with making diagnostics easier for everyone.

“If you don’t have a diagnosis, if you don’t know what the problem is, you can’t treat it properly, and you can’t catch things earlier,” Cohen said.

With new models in specialty labs and cancer screening, however, “you can go six months, 12 months before you would have with conventional means, and you have a chance in some particular cancers to do something about it and actually lead to a completely positive outcome that wouldn’t have otherwise happened.”

Cohen called this more proactive approach to diagnostics “health assurance.”

“There’s a lot of science that shows a good attitude and being engaged in your care leads to better outcomes,” he said. “There’s so many great things that can happen out of this.”

Read also: Sprinter Health Aims to Solve Healthcare’s Last Mile With On-Demand Lab Tests

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NEW PYMNTS DATA: THE 2021 HOLIDAY SHOPPING OUTLOOK

About: It’s almost go time for the holiday shopping season, and nearly 90% of U.S. consumers plan to make at least some of their purchases online — 13% more than did in 2020. The 2021 Holiday Shopping Outlook, PYMNTS surveyed more than 3,600 consumers to learn what is driving online sales this holiday season and the impact of product availability and personalized rewards on merchant preference.

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