Please put the person back into healthcare innovation

I went to a meeting today. Organised by BioCentre, it was considering innovation in healthcare. And what was interesting was that although we bumped into thoughts about technology, many of the questions, issues and comments drew more on the need to consider the person who the system was trying to serve, than the tools that provide the service.

Around the world, healthcare systems take different approaches to providing diagnostic, treatment and support facilities. None are perfect. All are over stretched. In the UK, the beloved NHS is stretched to breaking point as demand rises far above anything that the system can ever provide. This is due to a combination of increased health expectancy, combined with increased medical capability… we have solved the easy problems, and now expect the complex ones to be removed as well. And on top of this, the cost of the new technologies is escalating. Asprin is cheap – MRI scanners aren’t

In a US-styled, privately-funded system, even the most affluent of workers fear illness and redundancy. Illness, because they know their expensive insurance plans only purchase limited cover. Redundancy, because with no job they will be able to afford little cover

So you could have expected the discussion to revolve around need for widgets and gadgets that increase efficiency.

Instead, most of the conversation revolved around the need to take our services back to ones that see patients as people, and point to the notion that doing so could make them less costly.

I spent this last weekend trying to get a neighbour admitted to hospital. He has a chronic illness, and on top of that has not held down food or fluids for days. It took a dozen phone calls with triage nurses and doctors and three visits from ambulance crews before he was eventually taken in. But what was incredible was the need in each call to start the story from the beginning. No where in the system recorded information from previous calls, or if it did, the operators chose to ignore it.

There were two key consequences. Firstly, and least importantly, we all wasted hours as I retold, and retold and retold the stories. But secondly, I came to the end feeling completely dehumanised. Why? Because no one remembered me. Key to human interactions is relationship building.

Key to that is remembering people from one conversation to the next. Only the insanely self-centred like multiply retelling their story, particularly when the details are deeply personal and normally private.

In this case, innovation would create a process where people were treated as humans – individuals with known names and known histories. Where their story was not lost as soon as it was given, and where conversations continued from one interaction to the next. Do that and you will take one step towards putting the person back into the system.