Putting Patients Back in the Driver’s Seat

May 25, 2017

What do driverless cars and healthcare technology have in common? I didn’t quite know the answer to that question either until I recently attended Techonomy Health, a one-day conference in New York City. As the Head of Technology for Heartbeat, attending Techonomy Health was a no-brainer when it came to hearing perspectives on the latest health data topics like accessibility, privacy concerns, centralization, and more.

But I often found my mind wandering away from those topics and towards a refreshing undertone of the day: keeping humans at the center of any healthcare technology. Healthcare technologists can tend to dive deep into the weeds of the actual technology right off the bat (geeks will be geeks!) and, as a result, forget the vital importance of human-centered design — especially when working within innovation spaces that seemed otherwise science fiction-esque.

And THAT’s where driverless cars come into play.

The mere mention of these beacons of the near-future evokes a gleeful response from most techies, myself included. When the topic arises, I am quick to list dozens of current problems this technology will resolve (safety for one, although rife with moral and legal issues). But, as with healthcare technology, it’s easy to get caught up in this swirl of excitement and forget about the realities of human use. Christian Madsbjerg of ReD Associates put this in perspective during the panel, “Health not Healthcare,” by asking what the use case for a person in a self-driving car looked like — to which he replied by crossing his arms and staring blindly off into the distance.

It was a simple gesture but it begged the question in my mind, what does a realistic, successful use case for a driverless car look like in the short-term? Sure, one day we’ll all be so satisfied with the evolution of technology that we’ll comfortably work, watch movies, and relax as we zip along in our technology-chauffeured commuter pods — but what will this REALLY feel like to the users brave enough to embark on these preliminary journeys? I would imagine pretty terrifying, or, at best, mind-numbingly boring!

Looking at this through the lens of the user, I immediately began to form new ideas of how the concept of self-driving cars could evolve to better incorporate a person-centric design. For example, if that were me in the auto-pod (and someday soon it will be), I’d want to know a few things at any given moment of my journey:

– What was happening
– What was coming next
– What my options would be in controlling my trajectory
– What the possible outcomes of those decisions are
– How my outcomes compared to everyone else’s on the road

I’d also like to know that if something went wrong, I’d be alerted with time to react and have the support needed to adjust my course. I’d even want to know what the risks of each reaction and adjustment were. Give me all of that in a way that’s natural for me to understand and evaluate, and we’ll have a “me”-centric experience that I can live with. Perhaps I’ll even open up a laptop and relax.

Tying this notion back to healthcare, Len Greer from J&J Health and Wellness Solutions really brought it home at the conference with his statement, “We should design (patient) experiences, knowing what is clinically important, and focusing on what lifestyle decisions support that and will drive better outcomes.” This charge united several themes in my mind around what a holistic user-centered, outcomes-focused approach should allow us to do:

– Harness the many “micro-moments” and discrete data within patient experiences
– Use them to support their decisions and treatments
– And, ideally, influence discoveries and improve outcomes in ways that feel natural and comforting throughout their journey

Indeed, there are too many use cases in healthcare that, not unlike that of our autonomous car, should be re-examined from a new point of view. Similar to our passenger-driver, patients want reassurance that their healthcare providers’ decisions are predicated with total understanding of the person, the path ahead, and with the best outcomes in mind. They also want insights into the rationale (for each decision) and a sense of control — a feeling they can make or influence informed adjustments at-will that lead to greater personal outcomes.

For example, there are apps today that map the patient journey, but not many that make that journey feel personalized or give the patient a feeling of total understanding and empowerment to drive better results. What if we could combine the mountains of data trapped in health record systems like EPIC, with decentralized social, dietary, activity, behavioral, and biometric data? And then process it through an Artificial Intelligence (AI) assistant? We could form more personal assessments of where the patient has been, what they (and our AI) have learned, and what’s coming next in their journey. On top of that data, add in supporting education on the condition, treatment options, insurance/access, and availability of community programs — and we actually have an application that offers the user better control of their experience.

Open standards, greater accessibility to data, and the application of technologies like machine learning and augmented intelligence should be used to engage our patients in more personal ways. To quote another presenter from Techonomy Health, Arianna Huffington, “we are drowning in data and yet starved for wisdom.”

Thus, solutions should be focused on providing real insights that give our patient-users a sense of understanding and control, silencing the noise of mass health-related data, and quenching patients’ thirst for wisdom.

Energized from the discussion, I’ll be taking my learnings back to our ETCH (Heartbeat Experiential Technology) Lab and brainstorming ideas on ways to get patients back in the “driver’s seat” of their healthcare journeys.

David Sakadelis is Vice President and Group Director of Technology for Heartbeat, a digitally-native, full-service, Consumer & HCP Agency of Record for Challenger Brands. David has led Technology at Heartbeat since 2012 and oversees a diverse team of future-thinking developers, digital engineers, and analysts. His self-driving car will be red.