DIY Healthcare: A New Kind of Insurance

June 21, 2015 -- BIT Magazine Health insurance is a financial scheme devised to help individuals cope with otherwise impossible-to-pay medical bills. By large numbers of people paying monthly premiums (or taxes) to a centralized insurance or healthcare provider, the smaller number of those who actually need expensive coverage can be accommodated.  

But this is mainly because healthcare is so expensive in the first place. For now, it is the best we have, but what if healthcare wasn't so expensive in the first place? What if it was as affordable as food or other regular consumer products? How could healthcare become as affordable as food or regular consumer products?

What if we could pay into a different kind of insurance policy, one that took our money and invested it directly into cheapifying healthcare rather than just paying for really expensive procedures, some of which are not even effective?

By democratizing healthcare, including all of the research, development, tools, and techniques used to administer it, prices can be drastically lowered. Instead of paying insurance or taxes to a company or government who may or may not provide the most appropriate care you need in return, why not invest in local healthcare infrastructure amid a larger, open source network of collaborative research, development, and healthcare administration?

Like any Kickstarter project, there are a series of projects local teams of researchers, technicians, and medical practitioners may want to implement but simply lack the funds to move forward. Kickstarter projects are able to raise these funds through crowdfunding, enabling projects to move forward that may have otherwise remained lodged in the imagination of aspiring but penniless entrepreneurs. It may be possible to similarly fund healthcare-related projects through a similar means.

Once among the many "impossible-to-pay-for" items patients would acquire through insurance schemes (if they were lucky), prosthetic limbs are now becoming increasingly accessible thanks to open source research, development, and distributed manufacturing.
Already, projects like e-NABLE which creates artificial limbs for amputees and those with birth defects, have been able to use crowdsourcing and networks of volunteers to bring prosthetic limbs to people who otherwise could not afford them. Breakthroughs in personal manufacturing, coupled with the power of the Internet to network passionate people regardless of their geographic location has made e-NABLE possible. Other similar breakthroughs are making the prospect of a wider healthcare revolution inevitable.

For those with all their limbs intact who are contributing to the e-NABLE project, if for whatever reason they were to lose a limb, they now have an affordable alternative they could acquire either for free or easily by paying out of their own pockets. Their contributions constitute what is essentially an "insurance" of sorts. By contributing to other projects aimed at other forms of biomedical technology, biology, genetics, imaging systems, and diagnostic tools, people will be contributing to a much more tangible "insurance policy."

It will be an insurance policy that produces a cheaper, better, more effective and more accessible ecosystem of open source healthacre solutions, one that will permanently ensure accessibility to healtcare not only for those who "pay into" the policy, but for everyone, particularly those who cannot pay anything at all.

At the end of the day, even the best insurance policies or national healthcare systems may leave people with inadequate care. This is because of the immense costs and profits involved, complicating an already technically challenging problem. Crowdfunding and crowdsourcing healthcare, turning it from profit-driven to outcome-driven, and putting direct stakeholders (those who will eventually need therapies, surgeries, and treatments) in control of moving progress forward is a tempting proposition many are already undertaking.

There are applications which allow you to track your own body's vital signs over time, creating your own personal health records. There are genetic tests you can take to reveal information about your own personal genome, information many are (for the sake of curiosity only at the moment) using to build their own experiments around to study the everything from the effectiveness of vitamins for people with specific genetic conditions, to diagnostic tools used to identify conditions that are difficult for normal physical check ups to find.

As these open source concepts and the infrastructure needed to implement them continue to take hold, it will be important for people to have already considered what problems to tackle first. Creating lab equipment, first simple items then more complex systems, is one way to accelerate research and development regarding therapies. Working on prosthetic limbs today may provide the necessary experience and tools needed to work on other biomedical devices. DIYbio labs barcoding fish and genetically altering bacteria today may give way, when open source technology catches up, to genetic diagnosis and therapies in the future.

Ultimately, whatever we pay into this "insurance policy," we will reap more than just contractual healthcare from a system just barely making due. We will be creating a new system capable of circumventing long-standing problems with the current system. Best of all, we can build this new system incrementally and in parallel to the existing one, replacing it if and only if new alternatives
 prove to actually be more effective and affordable. 

If you are interested in paying into this new paradigm, check out your local makerspace or online to learn about what is already being done and how you can contribute. If you feel you don't have the skills or knowledge to contribute, there are many completely free resources online and available at your local makerspace where you can acquire them. Healthcare is such a wide-ranging topic that there is surely something of interest for everyone to get involved in. So what are you waiting for? Get involved today!

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