Guest column

Expert: Houston has a role to play at the dawn of health care consumerization

Now is Houston's chance to create a modern economic cluster around health information and knowledge exchange. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

For the most part, Houstonians were either born here or came here in pursuit of economic opportunity — a job of some sort that brought us to Houston, either directly or indirectly. Economic opportunity is part of the DNA of this city. The breadth of opportunities our city affords people from all over our country and all over our world are seemingly endless.

Houston's growth in the 20th century was fueled by large, strategic, capital investments in our region's infrastructure. Railroads, Hobby and Bush airports, the Port of Houston, the Texas Medical Center, NASA's Johnson Space Center, the Astrodome, and our surrounding petrochemical facilities have all been enormous economic drivers of investment, jobs, and prosperity for our region.

We are all familiar with the names of our early city visionaries and leaders. Were it not for their vision and leadership, Houston would still be a backwater town on the bayou, 50 miles inland from the closest seaport. Many of these leaders of early Houston had both a legitimate self-interest and a sense of civic virtue that inspired them to give back to a community that nurtured their success. They strongly believed in building a better Houston both for themselves and for succeeding generations with a can-do community spirit. Much of their success in developing Houston into the international city of today was a result of employing innovative mechanisms for matching private and public funding.

Today, the Texas Medical Center located in Houston is comprised of over 50 hospitals, medical schools, and other institutions that are all dedicated to public health. The TMC itself has an intertwined and symbiotic relationship with Houston and is a case study in how public and private institutions can work together to create such a unique medical complex that has benefited so many — and will benefit so many more in the future.

The good news is that today most institutions and physicians have electronic medical records. The bad news is that there is still a problem sending a patient's data across the street to a different health care provider electronically. This problem is called a lack of "interoperability" of health records, and this remains an unsolved problem nationally.

Making the data available to enable access to the right information at the right time to deliver the right care, is a challenge for every health care community in the country. That unresolved national problem can be Houston's opportunity to offer solutions and to leverage one of its largest industries.

We can transform health care delivery by enabling access to comprehensive electronic patient information when and where needed. There is now a strong consensus that new health information and communication technologies have a critical role to play in building a twenty-first century health care system that is safe, effective, patient-centric and equitable.

Most consumers today carry a powerful computer in their pocket called a smartphone. These consumers, also known as patients, are the most underutilized member of the health care delivery team and the only constant factor in the delivery of care. Moreover, the patient should care most about effective delivery of care and outcome. Notably, the added cost to have the patient involved is essentially zero in relation to the cost of delivery so patients would get better care at less cost.

We grew up thinking that doctor knows best, but that was until Dr. Google showed up able to make virtual house calls, whenever, and on demand. How many industries have we witnessed that were disrupted by the Internet? All indications are that this transformation will increase is size, scope and speed and is set to disrupt the largest industry in the largest economy in the world. We are at the dawn of the consumerization of health care.

Because of the enormous social challenges, there is currently no community in the United States that is an economic cluster for health information technology and health information exchange. Houston has the resources to become that community and create a health care hi-tech economic cluster. This suggestion is no more bold than a proposal to dig the Ship Channel 50 miles, or creating the first domed stadium in the world, or landing a man on the surface of the moon and returning him safely to Earth.

Now is Houston's chance to create a modern economic cluster around health information and knowledge exchange. If we are successful, Houston can then not only legitimately claim to be the home of the largest medical center in the world, but also the best.

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Manfred Sternberg of Manfred Sternberg & Assoc. PC Attorneys at Law has practiced consumer and commercial law for over 30 years.

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Building Houston

 
 

Emily Cisek, CEO and co-founder of The Postage, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss tech optimizing after-life planning, B-to-C startup challenges, and a national expansion. Photo courtesy of The Postage

Anyone who's ever lost a loved one knows how stressful the process can be. Not only are you navigating your own grief, but you're bombarded with decisions you have to make. And if that loved one wasn't prepared — as most aren't — then the process is more overwhelming than it needs to be.

On top of that, Emily Cisek realized — through navigating three family deaths back to back — how archaic of a process it was. Rather than wait and see if anything changed, Cisek jumped on the market opportunity.

"I just knew there had to be a better way, and that's why I started The Postage," Cisek, co-founder and CEO of the Houston-based company, says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "My background had historically been in bringing offline businesses online, and I started doing some research on how I could make this space better. At the time, there really wasn't anything out there."

The tech-enabled platform allows users of all ages to plan for their demise in every way — from saving and sharing memories when the time comes to organizing pertinent information for the loved ones left behind. And, as of last month, users can no generate their own last will and testament.

"We launched the online will maker — it wasn't in my roadmap for another six months or so — because every single person that was coming in was looking at something else on our platform, but then going to the will part and asking, 'Hey is this something I can create here?'" Cisek says.

Recognizing that this was a good opportunity to generate new users, Cisek quickly added on the feature for a flat $75 fee. Then, members pay $3.99 a month to be able to edit their will whenever they need to and also receive access to everything else on the platform.

Cisek saw a huge opportunity to grow with the pandemic, which put a spotlight after-life planning. The silver lining of it all was that more people were discussing after-life planning with their family members.

"We're having more open dialogue about life and end-of-life planning that I don't see any other scenario really bringing that to light," she explains. "In some ways, it's been positive because having the conversation with people has been easier than it had been before."

While anyone can access The Postage's platform, Cisek says she's focused on getting the word out nationally. Following some imminent funding and partnerships, national marketing and growth campaigns are on the horizon.

Cisek shares more on her career and he unique challenges she faces as a B-to-C entrepreneur on the podcast. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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