A healthy fear of disruption: three trends for the future of healthcare

Image source:  Nivida

Image source: Nivida

In a time of great global uncertainty, one of the few things we can be certain of is that healthcare is in crisis. Or at least that’s what our newspapers tell us, and what 70,600,000 Google hits will suggest.

But 'crisis' is a remarkably unhelpful word. For starters, it doesn’t take too much effort to find everything in some sort of crisis – Europe, education, western civilisation, the market research industry. Crisis is fashionable, and it sells papers. Or at least it did, before print was in a crisis of its own.

Secondly, crisis is always retrospective. It moralizes on what has gone wrong, and almost never offers any view on what can be made to go right. When something is described as in crisis, the implication is that it's already doomed to fail.

We use the word crisis when we aren’t comfortable understanding the changes in the world which are taking place.

But what about disruption?

If crisis is a word we use when we don’t have a determinate view on the future, then disruption is a word we can use when we do have a constructive handle on our world.

If saying healthcare is in crisis is blindly unhealthy, then saying healthcare is being disrupted is a much more productive diagnosis.

And healthcare is being disrupted – the traditional hierarchies of doctor and patient are being transformed through open access to information, new technology and new forms of authority.

Three areas in which healthcare needs to think differently:

1. Patient Design

Healthcare is a people business – and the next frontiers in patient experience will be opening up processes for patients to direct their own care.

In the short run, this might be as simple as getting to know patients’ lives better, or empowering people to report, record and take control of their own healthcare challenges.

In the long run, it may even be handing over the keys to the hospital: incorporating patients into the design of treatment spaces, procedures and practices, as has happened in the Radboud clinic in Amsterdam

2. Optimising humanity

A real sea-change is taking place in how we understand health – increasingly, healthcare is not just a means for humans to get better, but a way of us getting better humans.

In the short term, this can be achieved by adapting processes to suit the personal rhythms of people’s lives – for example, the Pager app in San Francisco, which connects patients with doctors on an on-demand basis at any hour of the day.

Thinking further ahead, the logic of optimisation can be pushed into the world of personalised medicine: providing treatments and schedules of care based around an individual's genetic profile, or mapping people’s unique gut ecosystem to tailor the best possible solutions for them.

Of course, there may be a downside: we need to seriously think what a world where a privileged few can afford to optimise themselves – perhaps at the expense of the majority – might look like, and put practices in place today to avoid it.

3. Open Source Systems

The great disruptors of the world do so through collaboration – the sharing of ideas and the influx of new and unexpected points of view.

Healthcare companies need to incubate innovations from the ground up, finding new creators and backing them – even if they are not 100% guaranteed to succeed.

In the long run, we need to look wider. Healthcare challenges are truly global, and incorporate environmental issues, agricultural challenges and demographic ones. The successful health brands of the future may not have originated in the world of healthcare at all.

Josh Dickins, Flamingo