HealthCommentary

Exploring Human Potential

Smart Innovation — Making Home-Centered Care Work for the Everyday Person

Posted on | September 14, 2006 | No Comments

I’ve spent a fair amount of time over the past 6 months advancing the cause of a technology-enabled, preventative health care system that’s centered on the home. At the core of such a system would be a primary, virtual, electronic loop from home to care team and back home. Data (vital signs, diagnostics, sensors) go one way. Analysis, advice and coaching go the other.

In this vision of health care, I see Wi-Max, home health technology product lines, financial firms, HSA debit cards, and Google decision-support search capabilities. I see a new health care system being pieced together under the noses of traditional health care players. But are we ready for all this innovation?

In a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal, Nicholas Carr, who wrote "IT Doesn’t Matter" for the May 2003 Harvard Business Review, had this to say:

"For a lot of companies, the people who are in charge of innovation, whether it’s the R&D folks or product developers or entrepreneurs in small companies, are the people who are the most passionate about the particular new technologies. They tend to be the early adopters, and that can give them a distorted view of the market. Because most normal people are actually quite conservative: They’ll adopt a new technology, but they tend to do it quite slowly. That opens up a big opportunity for companies that are smart in figuring out how to help normal, everyday customers create a bridge between an old, established technology or way of doing things and a new one.

New technologies tend to be difficult to use. They tend to be buggy and not work perfectly. They tend to be expensive. All of those things mean that they tend to be limited to a small, early-adopter customer base for quite a long time. If you can figure out a way to move with the market toward the new technology, I think you can do a lot better than jumping ahead.

Back in the dot-com era in the late 1990s, you had all sorts of new-media companies being organized to try to deliver video online. And almost all of them went bust for a very simple reason: Very few U.S. consumers actually had broadband access. The companies were way out ahead of the market in innovation. Even today, fewer than half of American households have broadband Internet access.

In contrast, you have a company like Netflix that was able to bridge between the new technology — the Internet — and the old technology, which is the delivery of video in physical form, by using the U.S. mail to deliver DVDs, yet having a very sophisticated ordering system online that didn’t require broadband access to use."

So how can we relate Carr’s insights to home-centered health care?

1. The ground must be properly laid for preventive home-centered health care if it is to succeed.
2. Success will certainly include broadband highways, data-producing home applications, and wireless networking.
3. And most important in this scenario will be those who figure out "how to help normal, everyday customers create a bridge between an old, established technology or a way of doing things and a new one."

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