“The more things change, the more they stay the same. While the technology had changed, the job had not.” Louise Penny, A Better Man
In the recent Medical Futurist article The Fight Against The Ever-Widening Health Gap Between Rich And Poor, the author raises an interesting point that the key to improving health literacy lies in the un-digital design thinking. It makes one wonder: if digital health professionals are the masterminds behind the current digital health reality, then who we can task with the un-digital design thinking. I believe that the un-digital design thinking should be done in collaboration with the patients.
This is by no means a new idea, and there are established institutions that have been calling for patient input for years. For example, the Society for Participatory Medicine encourages patients and healthcare professionals to collaborate for improved healthcare outcomes. Furthermore, in 2014, British Medical Journal encouraged researchers to involve patients in the paper review process and to identify how the research paper was impacted by the input from the patients.
To steer the digital health wagon, we need to establish the essence of digital health. Is it a health app, a self-check-in, a virtual doctor appointment Is it a digital pill or a glucose tracker? How do we involve patients in design thinking for a highly specialized area?
With new wearable devices, patients begin to take lead on their health journey and directly influence new features and updates. For example, Apple sent out a survey to Apple Watch users to learn more about the health features and third healthcare apps they use. Unfortunately, this is not always the case with other digital health solutions.
For example, virtual visits with a doctor are becoming a norm, but the question is for whom? For your grandparents? Probably not. Did anyone ask them if the current digital health format is convenient for them or was it forced upon them? Maybe the process should have started with a question? Input on how to make the experience better? An instruction? A clarification and reassurance that the doctor will provide you with the best of care and advise on necessary next steps?
“The technology you use impresses no one. The experience you create with it is everything.” — Sean Gerety
The paradox that I find of the utmost interest is that digital health solutions work because of the underlying human connection. e-Prescribing, for example, allows a clinician to see whether the prescription has been picked up from a pharmacy. It gives a doctor an insight into medication adherence, but for a patient, it also means that the doctor would know if the prescription had not been picked up. With a paper prescription, a patient could have lied to the doctor and not worried about the clinician finding out the truth. Hence one can make an argument that improved medication adherence rates connected to e-Prescribing hinge on the human connection and unwillingness to disappoint an authoritative figure.
Digital health is here to remain and to develop even further. And this is an excellent thing. A virtual visit at 8 am? A watch that tells me to get up more? At-home ultrasound for expecting mothers? Yes, there is now a home ultrasound scanner.
Digital health has many advantages, and one downside: we get obsessed with new technology and enthralled with our dreams for a better future that we forget who we are doing this all for. Patients. Let’s not leave them stranded and give them a product dictated only by our dreams and assumptions. Collaboration, human connection - and the future will be yours, my friend.