This post was originally published on forbes.com and can be viewed here.

In healthcare, consumers are once removed from not just payment, but also decision-making. In spite of this disintermediation, health and wellness is innately individual. In parallel, consumer adoption of health and wellness related technology is soaring. It begs the question:

As digital health approaches critical mass, who will lead the charge for healthcare consumerization and more importantly, who in healthcare will be there to welcome them?

Will it be enterprise companies like Samsung Electronics , Apple Inc., Microsoft, Cisco Systems and Hewlett-Packard? Or will the giants continue to focus almost exclusively on optimizing legacy health care? Or will it be emerging players like Zephyr, Polar, Sano Inc., Sproutel Inc. and LiveMD — disruptive forces emerging to respond to real end consumer needs?

Last week, I read Andy Weir’s best-selling novel, The Martian.  It’s a timeless survive-and-rescue story. Marooned on Mars with limited resources and information—and time running out—the main character is compelled to process, innovate, and collaborate in an attempt to get back to Earth. He is his own doctor, his own farmer, his own cook, his own repairman. The story is the perfect metaphor for healthcare consumerization:

Consumers’ focus to not only survive but thrive will compel healthcare adaptation, transformation, and expansion. The result will be individualized care that meets real health care needs, cheaper, faster, and better.

In keeping with The Martian analogy, Earth is our current healthcare system and the marooned astronaut is to the consumer. Healthcare and its cohorts are on Earth while each of us consumers are stranded on our own respective Mars, waiting for someone on Earth to figure out how to rescue us.

Historically, I am not an active participant in my own healthcare (although I am an active participant in my own health). Communication is episodic, in fits and starts, and if and only if I adhere to a strict set of communication rules, such as directing all inquiries through phone or secure portal. Despite the fact that Earth does not have a complete understanding of my status on Mars, I’d like to think that someone on Earth knows what he is doing. Since I can’t participate in my own rescue, since my information and skill set is incomplete, I don’t control and likely never consider questions of crucial importance. While I invest much of my available resources towards solutions, I’m not part of the decision-making process, not a collaborator in my rescue, not a participant in my own success because I lack the necessary technology, and by extension, knowledge to participate. The dynamic imposes on me the feeling that I’m incompetent to deal with these complex issues. Secluded to my own habits, on my own lonely planet, anxiety mounts and morphs into animosity. I must happily and confidently assign the right to control my life to a system 36 million miles away.

From Earth, the perspective is much different. Hundreds of thousands of the brightest and most capable scientists and technologists are laser-focused on my well-being, and the health and well-being of millions of others. Communication is episodic, in fits and starts, and if and only if they adhere to a strict set of communication rules, such as directing all inquiries through phone or secure portal. They know my involvement is essential to the safety, longevity, quality and affordability of the mission and future missions. Signals from Earth, packed with life-sustaining information, direct me to existing technologies to support my rescue. Their team is on the way! But without my active participation, these scientists and technologists assume I’m apathetic, too overwhelmed to deal with these complex issues, or resigned to death; without a collaborative cohort taking an active role in the rescue, they happily and confidently subordinate their role to administrators and regulators.

This is the inflection point between legacy healthcare and the future…the real opportunity for healthcare visionaries to leverage today towards receiving signals from each of us on our own respective Mars: Consumers are empowered and becoming more active participants in their own health and wellness. The signals are everywhere.

Consider:

  • Multi-functional tools & sensors to manage health, collect data passively, and establish a wellness norm become accessible and affordable for consumers (Samsung Electronics, Apple Inc., Zephyr, Polar, Microsoft Inc., Sano Inc., Sproutel Inc.)
  • Outdated communication tools (fax machines and phone) replaced by efficient, effective, secure and interoperable information communication technologies, affording physician-patient collaboration outside of the hospital, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. (Teledoc, LiveMD, HealthSparq)
  • Federated consumer data (coupled with secure authentication features), allowing physicians to access consumer data and better manage outcomes outside of the hospital, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. (Factom, HealthNautica, Dell Inc., Alphabet (Google))
  • Empowered with a data-rich, contextual health history, consumers become proactive collaborators in the management of their own health, supporting their decision to choose appropriate levels of specialization. (Diabetik, Cardiio)
  • Environments where we live, learn, work, and play, become intelligent and context-aware, delivering notifications to enhance engagement and decision-making while accelerating personalized collaboration and care. (SRI International, Inc., Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard. Qualcomm, Intel)
  • Leveraging expansive networks, consumers lobby lawmakers and regulators for greater participation in the management of their own health while proactively transacting towards self-directed health and financial outcomes. (Facebook, change.org)

Given my experience and understanding of where we’ve been, where we are and where we’re going, if we can manage to place the consumer at the center of the rescue mission from Mars, and as more and more consumers take an active role, we save both the individual and Earth from systemic collapse, while ushering in a new era systemic transformation.

Signal received?