I recently had the opportunity to be part of a panel discussion focused on consumer engagement in Durham, N.C., for Duke University’s 5th Annual Informatics Conference: "Clinical Innovation in an EHR Environment". The panel moderator gave us the questions he hoped to address ahead of time, which conveniently gave me a chance to write these answers.
Q: Given the tremendous emphasis on software and applications for the clinical setting and meeting certain federal guidelines (EMR’s and Meaningful Use for example) how much attention is the consumer getting within the healthcare industry right now? And is this changing?
A: It's not just a question of how much attention the consumer’s getting, but how are they getting it and is it done in a way that meaningfully fits in their lives? Is enough attention paid through technology and process to enable the patient to best capitalize on the small windows of time they have with a primary care physician or a specialist? It's areas like this where people providing a service, beyond medicine, think about the digital tools they create for their target audience to make the most use of time. From cookie-based interfaces, to interactive trip planners to faceted search.
Q: We see and hear a great deal about discreet health apps and tools out there for the consumer – how much of an impact are these private market solutions having/can they have on the industry or are these peripheral to the real delivery of healthcare and not that important?
A: The fail, fast, forward nature of these developments could at the very least be an area for clinicians to keep an eye on to see what is working from both an interface and adoption-rate perspective. It's not that different than the web. We all know it has evolved in both technology and design. That happened largely because designers, developers and clients are aware of what others are doing, trends form, and the general experience is improved. I don't see why the same approach couldn't be adopted in healthcare. Imagine a CME (continuing medical education) series on wearable technology and patient data trends?
Q: What are the biggest challenges or barriers in designing better healthcare products for the consumer or healthcare patient today? And why aren't we seeing real breakthrough products (aka the iPod or Beats of healthcare)?
A: Prior to my healthcare experience and working with agencies, I worked in the newspaper world and I have seen many similarities between the two. Often the process is so ingrained, innovations that touch multiple departments face an uphill organizational political struggle to get adopted. Hospitals are great at innovation if it directly affects patient care. It seems to me that some of what we're talking about is really a need for letting go of old ways of operating. And as cultural anthropologist Karen Stevenson is so great at highlighting in her work, the hardest part about creating change isn't embracing the new, it's about letting go of the old.
Q: Put on your Wizard hats and describe – in as much detail as you can conjure up – the healthcare environment and consumer market with regard to healthcare technology in 2024 (just 10 years from now).
A: I am somewhat pessimistic that the continuing growing income gap is going to make many of the best advances in healthcare out of reach for many. That said, I see a tremendous improvement in interfaces that should help both patients and clinicians better handle the influx of data each person will have the potential of generating. I just read this week that Sony figured out how to store 130-some TB of data on a cassette tape. If you think websites generate a lot of data, imagine a population that's even more connected by wearable devices.
The journalist in me pictures a greater crowdsourcing of disease and toxic environment data and the digital agency version of me sees amazing data projects that connect patients and doctors and donors around the world in ways we couldn't ever imagine when we were just using cassette tapes for, you know, music.