How Is Health Tech Like Harry Potter's Wand?

March 23, 2017
A recent Healthcare Informatics webinar I was a part of included many nuanced comments about the value and challenges of incorporating and implementing technology in healthcare.

I recently had the honor of participating as a panelist for a Healthcare Informatics webinar entitled, "Top Health IT Trends for 2017: Policy Changes, Technologies, and Strategies That Will Move the Needle.”  My fellow panelists were Drexel DeFord, President of Drexio Digital Health and Dave Levin, M.D., Chief Medical Officer of Sansoro Health.  It was a free-wheeling conversation that included many nuanced comments about the value and challenges of incorporating and implementing technology in healthcare.

Both of my fellow panelists had great insights, but one of Dave Levin’s particularly struck me.  He observed that many people treat healthcare technology almost as if it were magic.

I have a problem. Someone sells me some kind of tech solution. I install it. And it’s supposed to solve my problem.

Not really.

At its core, much of technology is merely a tool that greatly streamlines or accelerates a process or analysis.  So if my core process resembles a well-oiled machine, the technology will significantly enhance my productivity.  If, on the other hand and as is often the case, the internal processes are flawed, all I’ve done is speed up my dysfunctional process. We should view technology as an enabler, not necessarily a solution.

Part of the unfortunate fallout from expecting more from technology than it can deliver is that people who may not be particularly tech-oriented can get jaded by suboptimal installations.  If I don’t really “get” technology, and I am somehow talked into implementing some kind of tech installation, if the underlying operational problems are not addressed, whatever glorious results the technology salesperson promised are unlikely to materialize.

This dynamic is the embodiment of the early days of computing’s phrase “garbage in, garbage out.”  So next time you come to me with a dazzling solution, I’m that much harder to convince.

Compounding this problem are the reality of the end-user’s learning curve and the fact that the workflow dictated by the technology almost always forces me, at least to some extent, to change how I operate.  I can rail against the hard-wired steps the software requires me to follow, but guess what?  In most cases, I can’t change it.  I just have to adapt.  This is a recipe for grumbling end-users.

So, back to the question, “How is health tech like Harry Potter’s wand?”  Answer:  It’s not.

If Harry used the correct spell and employed his wand in the just the right way, he would get the exact result he wanted. Health tech isn’t quite that simple. Implementing complex technology requires a huge amount of evaluation and correction of underlying work flows, extensive pre-planning, ongoing end-user education, constant monitoring, and continuous adaptation. Not exactly an instantaneous or guaranteed process!  Harry’s wand is not going to bail us out this time.

Glenn Pearson has worked in the hospital industry for more than 30 years and now, as Principal of Pearson Health Tech Insights, LLC (PHTI), he applies his vast experience to help the healthcare industry fully embrace technology’s role in transforming healthcare. PHTI targets developers/entrepreneurs/vendors, hospitals and other provider groups, and investors. Before founding PHTI, Glenn was Executive Vice President at Georgia Hospital Association for more than 19 years.

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