Finding Humanity At The Intersection Of Health And Technology

Over the last few months, there’s been increasing excitement around the innovations in health tech. You know health tech is at critical mass when it hits center stage at SXSW, and the Apple ResearchKit introduction promises to bring together personal healthcare data from a huge proportion of the population. With all the hubbub around the latest innovations, it’s important to identify the human stories at the center of the technology, which supports why the technology isn’t only inevitable, but necessary.

Technology is making a tremendous human impact on the most complex, but also the most practical of health challenges. This hit very close to home last week when my 89-year-old dad called to tell me he was going to cancel his cardiologist appointment because his pickup service wasn’t available. Having just switched from a cane to a walker, he was feeling too unsteady to have to hail a cab.

Imagine his surprise when I told him I would send him a car that could be there in less than two minutes. Hearing how Uber technology could locate the car closest to him and the driver would already know his destination was mind-boggling, and critically important to not postponing his needed care. With the reassurance that he could get to any doctor’s appointment without help, dad’s confidence that he can live independently has increased and the medication adjustment the cardiologist made has him feeling steadier. 



Uber as a healthcare service? Absolutely.

Similar stories of the benefits of technology can be found all over the Internet. In most cases, the technology being utilized for health wasn’t necessarily created with health purposes in mind. It just so happened that there was an added health benefit.

A man who had started a 3D printing business sat in an oncologist’s office with his wife as they were told she had a massive brain tumor. Her only hope was an extremely risky procedure that would require sawing open her skull. She had a very low probability of survival, but they were told it was the only option. But the man had an idea. He took the MRI scan of her tumor and created a 3-D model of it. Using that model, doctors at another hospital center were able to design a much less invasive procedure to remove the tumor. She is now cancer-free.

As a 19 year old studying nanotechnology at Stanford, Elizabeth Holmes saw an opportunity to remake the way lab testing is done. Her inspiration: fear of needles and the way lab test costs often deterred patients from getting the necessary tests. Realizing that 40 to 60% of Americans are not compliant with even the basic tests that their physicians give them, today Holmes’ company, Theranos, is making it possible to run multiple blood tests on just a single drop of blood. Holmes didn’t stop there. Since many people can’t take time off to visit a lab during the day, Theranos is rolling out in every Walgreens in the country. What an incredibly strategic decision considering that accessibility is imperative to measuring the success of tech advancements. 

New York University’s Langone Cancer Center recently overhauled their entire patient experience starting with insights on the intersection of human needs and technology. They began by upgrading the most basic step: the sign-in procedure. Not long ago, every time you went to the doctor you had to fill out a form with your name, address, Social Security number, insurance information, etc. So NYU created a system that enabled you to fill out the form once. From every visit thereafter, a biometric hand reader identifies you, fills in all the required information, and connects you to all your health records. So simple, so elegant, so human.

As exciting as it is to track advancements in technology, the magic and, ultimately, the value of what it can offer society occurs when we can identify the human need at the heart of what the technology can deliver. At the intersection of health and technology is the human.

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