Health Innovation Beyond Statistics And Meeting Patients Where They Are

Every day doctors advise patients to lose weight, stop smoking, take more exercise, drink less alcohol and take time off. And yet obesity, depression and alcohol abuse are set to feature among the top health care problems for some time to come.

Associated with these problems is the rising incidence of cancer, heart disease and diabetes. There are also a number of parallel trends that aren’t obviously linked to these issues. More people are online and using smartphones. More people are having cosmetic surgery. More people are spending money on gym membership and health clubs. Common sense suggests that there must be some way to help solve the health problems by tapping into the trends.

It is contested how well doctors know their patients. But they cannot ignore these other behaviours. Doctors complain about patients who answer their phones during consultations, or those who come with questions via ‘Dr Google’. So where does this leave health innovators? The old way was to preach the message of abstinence, exercise and fruit and veg. It isn’t working. Taxing cigarettes might be a good public health policy, but it doesn’t change how young women feel about the happy side effect of appetite suppression.

Communicating statistics hasn’t enabled us to solve these problems. Far more effective is the notion that smoking and obesity might impact adversely on your appearance. Smartphones enable us to get up close and personal. Not just in order to communicate and connect with patients and their quantified self, but to add meaning, personal relevance and context. As a ‘lean medicine’ innovator you can do all this with a minimum of technical skill, but not without imagination, observation and interpretation.

No big investment required, other than the determination to make a difference for people working to solve the problem from their perspective.

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