Design thinking

The cool factor of reaching people in need

Montana Cherney

I’ve been following the connected health space closely in recent years. Every other day, there seems to be a shiny new connected product or app that promises to make people healthier. The problem is, far too few of them target real people in need and instead focus on optimizing the lives of the young, athletic and “healthy privileged.”

I recently went home for a quick holiday to spend time with my family. Although we are often in touch with one another by phone, email or Skype, being together in person allows for richer and more nuanced interactions that give us clues to how everyone is really doing. This together time has become especially important as my parents are getting older and are experiencing the effects – physically, mentally and emotionally – of aging.

My father recently turned 70. He is in fairly good health for his age, but is dealing with a number of conditions – some age-related, others not – for which he takes multiple medications several times per day, like many others in his generation.

A printed list taped into a day planner helps my dad keep track of his medications.
A vibrating watch reminds him to take his medications multiple times per day.

I noticed him wearing a new watch that was both too small and looked incongruous with his normal style. He explained to me that it’s a vibrating watch that helps him remember to take his medications. When I remarked that it looked like a child’s watch, my father replied that originally his girlfriend bought him a larger Casio model but it was too complex – it had too much functionality making it hard to use and did not seem worth the effort of overcoming the steep curve of learning how to use it. “The more it can do, the less it will be used by the people who need it the most,” he told me. So he sought out a simpler model online and stumbled upon his VibraLITE mini, a model often used to potty train children.

Days passed and his watch was still on my mind. Every other day, there seems to be a shiny new connected product or app that promises to make people healthier. The problem is, far too few of them target real people in need and instead focus on optimizing the lives of the young, athletic and “healthy privileged.” I realized that my father’s watch and two other solutions I’ve learned about in the past year – two New Jersey hospitals’ home monitoring of heart failure patients via SMS and Mayo Clinic’s study using Fitbit to monitor and assess mobility post-surgery – exemplify three goals we should have in the coming year as we work to transform healthcare.

1. Keep Things Simple

All-in-one can sometimes tip into too-much-in-one. Not every solution has to include super computing power or a social network. Creating simple, no-frills solutions to help people overcome small changes can have a huge impact on personal health and on healthcare costs.

2. Privilege Evidence Over Elegance

Working well is more important than looking good, and proving that solutions provide value early on is key. Studying solutions in small-scale trials can save time and costs in the short-term and increase value through better outcomes in the long-term.

 

3. Focus More on the People in Need

Many more solutions are needed by the people who are or will be putting the most burden on healthcare systems, whether those with multiple chronic conditions or the aging. When the cool factor of the headlines becomes that solutions are reaching people in need, then we’ll be getting somewhere.