How to bring back “care”​ into “Healthcare”​?

The technological progress completely changed the landscape across all industries, but in my biased perspective, the most dramatic impact is being seen in healthcare. It is no wonder that the largest companies in the world are all-in in this space. Unfortunately, I have repeatedly experienced “healthcare” being replaced with “healthtech”, the consequence of that being both literal and metaphorical loss of care for those that need it the most — the patients.

In most cases, decisions and product development strategies are made by the “tech” of “healthtech”, and to some extent by the sales & marketing people. It seems uncommon for medical professionals to guide this process and be positioned as true product managers. The argument for that? They are the only ones that are able to bridge the gap between the “health” and the “tech”. Caring for people and listening to them is what they do and know best.

Instead, we try to implement formulas, guides, and tests on how to talk to patients. We further have the audacity to call patients “users”, “clients” or even worse — “consumers”, thinking that health is a commodity and just another need to be fulfilled.

We have seen the consequences of that imported philosophy. The electronic medical record (EMR) disaster that struck the United States put the needs of the billing system and the administrators above the needs of the patients. Simultaneously, a 3400% increase in administrators occurred in US healthcare, compared to a 100% increase of doctors. The benefit? 13 out of 15 minutes of a patient exam is spent on filling out EMRs, as @EricTopol points out in “Deep Medicine”. Not only have we changed our value system, but we have also denied medical professionals to treat their patients and care for them.

I believe that the healthcare world operates on a different level. The regulatory standards that each company or product has to go through are rigorous, but in fact very simple. By asking three questions (what is the purpose of your product/device; who are you building it for; how do you intend to achieve that purpose), the regulatory bodies are able to stop many products and companies from ever reaching the market. I salute the @EU for introducing the medical device regulations that start in May 2020. They are going to raise the bar and make all companies liable for their services, especially those involved in building software. When you do become a medical device manufacturer, you are responsible for the safety of your product, but for the safety of the patients as well, and hopefully that remains the north star of these regulatory bodies. Unfortunately, that reality is observed (or ignored) too late by companies, leading to increasingly frequent failures.

It is for that reason that patients must be the centre of every mission and vision. Empathy and care must be the north star, whether it is a startup or a 500-person corporation, and the only viable source of that empathy can come from the medical professionals. Surely not all doctors exhibit this trait, and some even treat patients poorly. But those who do understand that technology can help their patients are, in my opinion, the most valuable individuals for this 21st-century medicine to flourish. Along with designers, developers, marketers, managers, and engineers, they are the ones who are able to listen to patients and understand their problems. They know how to talk to them and what are the ways in which we could solve the problems we face today. They are the ones who will never use the term “consumers” or “users”.

Instead of trying to figure out and “outsmart” patients when finding out if our idea is a good one, we need to understand that the human nature is much more complex, but also much more flawed than we assume. In “Thinking fast and slow” Daniel Kahnemann illustrates the array of errors in our thinking, especially regarding decision-making, aversion to risk, and fear of negative outcomes. Those flaws do not make exceptions for the most important thing in our life — our health and our family’s health.

When going for an examination, choosing the treatment or procedure — for us, our parent, our child, a heavy burden is bestowed upon us. In those situations, we are faced with tremendous fear and responsibility, and in those moments, there is no formula, no checklist, neither a platform nor a service that will anticipate and relieve that burden.

That is why we need to be humble and careful when building solutions in the modern world. We must not forget our north star and listen to patients. We need to preserve the “care” in healthcare and make sure that both the patients and the medical professionals are better off because of those solutions. Humility, grace, and above all, empathy is what we need as values going forward. And medical professionals can instil those values during product development.

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Clinician at Huma, PhD student of Public Health focusing on hospital-acquired infections in ICUs. Building medical devices.

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Alex Despotovic

Alex Despotovic

Clinician at Huma, PhD student of Public Health focusing on hospital-acquired infections in ICUs. Building medical devices.

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