New York: Doctor, Who?

Jamie Nicholson
Associate Strategy Director

Digital solutions have transformed the physician-patient dynamic. With countless sources of information online, wearables to track, apps to diagnose, and disruptive services emerging, patients are taking control of their healthcare in ways they never have before. The catch: With so many information sources of varying credibility and authority, who (or what) should patients and their caregivers trust? And what is the relative role each information source should play on the path to wellness?

To advance the dialogue about this timely and compelling topic, Smart Design recently hosted a Smart Salon at our New York studio. Attended by diverse members of the healthcare ecosystem in the corporate, startup, and design communities, the evening event sparked active discussion about the emerging opportunities and challenges related to digital and non-digital sources of health advice.

A curated panel of healthcare practitioners and experts explored the evening’s topic. The panel members were:

  • Andréa Mallard, Chief Brand Officer, Omada Health
  • Rob DeMento, CEO, Mira Fitness
  • Michelle Zimmerman, Health Care Executive and Entrepreneur
  • Jamie Nicholson, Senior Strategist, Smart Design (Moderator)

During the course of the evening, several interesting themes and insights emerged:

Consumers are forced to care about their healthcare but are often confused

As employers shift to high deductible health plans and insurers seek to drive down costs, consumers are paying more out of their own pockets and assuming more responsibility for their healthcare than ever before. However, in the absence of effective tools and protocols, increased responsibility has not led to greater understanding.

Most people don’t know what insurance they bought, how to maximize it, or where to go if you get hit by a car.

Michelle Zimmerman
Health Care Executive and Entrepreneur

As a part of the discussion, the panelists cited a number of their own challenges in seeking care for themselves or a loved one. Even for people in the healthcare industry, navigating the healthcare system can be confusing.

Experiences outside of health care raise patient expectations

In recent years, technological shifts have led to dramatic experience improvements in many industries, elevating consumer expectations about simplicity and ease of use. At a time when Skype allows users to easily speak with friends who are thousands of miles away and Uber lets users hail a cab from a smartphone, the most basic but crucial experiences in health care—scheduling an appointment, getting test results, or resolving a claim—feel relatively complex and unempowering. Applying the learnings and methods of other service industries is a substantially opportunity for players in the healthcare ecosystem.

I need to be more demanding of my doctor than I am of Amazon Prime.

Andréa Mallard
Chief Brand Officer, Omada Health

Wearables and apps need to answer the “So What?” question

Although activity trackers have been well-established as consumer wellness devices, their impact has been muted by the meaningfulness of their data, leading to “wearable fatigue”.

People don’t know what to do with the fact that they took 5,000 steps. Interpreting the data, making sense of it, and giving you a way to actually improve your goal is important. Wearable tech is very much in its infancy, and the ability to make sense of the data is a key piece that is hampering the industry.

Rob DeMento
CEO, Mira Fitness

While activity tracking wearables have struggled to create meaningful insight, some companies have leveraged big data as a source of competitive advantage. According to Andrea Mallard, “At Omada, we can predict how someone will do in week 10 based on a few things they do (or don’t do) in week 2. This changed everything for us because we are able to predict who is going to fall off the bandwagon before they realize they are going to do it.”

Helping a community also helps the individual too

While technology has a key role in driving outcomes, the value of people and community-based solutions was also a key theme of the evening. Rob DeMento comments “We are trying to encourage people to make changes in their behavior, and behavior change is an key part of chronic diseases. In helping to modify behavior, community plays an important part.”

The most compelling wellness and disease management programs, including those with a digital platform, often have a community component. Andrea Mallard shares “A lot of people say, ‘I didn’t want to let my group down. I weigh in every day and I would check cause they would be upset with me.’ And I thought, ‘This is a really powerful moment in healthcare when you are worried about someone you haven’t met and lives 400 miles away, but you’ve somehow built this connection with.’”

Consumers need a health care “navigator”

In today’s health care environment, consumers need to go to multiple authorities to answer their health care questions. A doctor may answer a clinical question, while an administrative question may be answered by a health insurance company, and a drug question by a pharmacist. And for every question that is asked, there are many more questions that consumers don’t even know to ask.

Michelle Zimmerman asserts “There needs to be some sort of new organization that is the “Navigator” for people. I think we have some great roles already established in the eco-system, but sometimes it’s hard to know which person is right. You want one person to project manage you through that experience.”