2017 / 5 May

So just what is the purpose of all of this?


For reasons unbeknownst to me, over the last twelve months I have found myself frequently presenting to various audiences about innovation in healthcare. I guess I have something interesting to say but it’s always novel because it’s different to what I expect. When I do, I am quick to point out that I am not and will not be a trained healthcare professional. I am not a doctor or a nurse or anything else. But I have developed an undeniable passion for working in the healthcare sector. More often than not, I am asked why.

I think it’s important to frame my presentations upfront in this way for a number of reasons. The first is that innovation in healthcare is not driven from within the industry. It requires a multitude of skills and viewpoints and often finding those is challenging. The current view is that to want to work in this sector, you need to be driven by a ‘purpose’ (however nebulous that may seem). It’s not the nicest or shiniest or best paid industry so there needs to be another underlying motivation for traditionally external minds to want to be involved. I want to highlight that there are people out there willing and able to roll their sleeves up and work in an area desperately crying out for change.

The second and what I thought was the most important is the thrill of the challenge. The healthcare system has become a victim of its own creation. It is hamstrung by legacy systems and approaches that have not been given the care and attention to change rapidly. The opportunity to play a part in that transformation appeals to me because it’s a challenge I cannot wrap my head around. It’s an ongoing pursuit, often hampered by an intricate and convoluted system. This in and of itself is a good reason, but not a purpose and I am slowly starting to realise that it’s not the main motivating factor.

It was during a conversation about how I view the healthcare system and what digital innovation can do to enable better human interactions that I started to understand really what my purpose is. It’s about the individual. This is the absolute crux of the work to me.

We are in an enviable position to create tools that help people do their job better, not replace them. I’ve written before about the role of the healthcare provider transitioning to one of a health coach (that is, someone who can guide someone through their health journey specific to their individual context). The key word here, again, is individual.

I look at the healthcare system and it is one created to manage volume. Metrics of success are number of hospital beds, number of patients, number of this and that. It removes the soul from the industry. While there is a shift towards values-based care and funding for improved outcomes, what is really happening is that the entire model is shifting from a one-to-many (one provider to many clients) model to a many-to-one (many providers to one client).

In my experience, healthcare practitioners got into the industry to help people. But their system is not designed in a way to enable that. It’s this key insight that drives what I do and why I speak so passionately about transformation. Because many of those individuals have lost their purpose. The system they spent so long becoming part of is slowly starting to defeat them.

When the model starts to shift, what will start to happen is that the individual will start to tailor their healthcare experience about what they need and who they speak to. They can have informed conversations about what matters. They can be treated as people, not as numbers. The irony and misconception here is that digital should be an enabler of improved personal connections, but it is currently viewed as a replacement to the individual. In my world, the individual is key and what we create should support them in whatever manner necessary.

So after all, how do I define my purpose?

At first it was to tackle an industry that desperately needed it. I will openly admit that the work I did selling almond milk, or health insurance, or luxury cars was unfulfilling. Perhaps it’s the faux-Australian in me wanting to fight for the underdog. But the idea of applying those skills in the healthcare system was appealing.

Then it was simply the scale of the challenge. The system being so broken that the work would always be interesting and I would always be learning. I can counter that with frustration and roadblocks along the way, but that’s also part of the appeal. I am supremely stubborn.

What it’s really about is a system designed without the individual in mind. What fascinates me most is how people think, how they act, what they decide. It was fulfilling in my advertising and marketing days because I could learn about behaviour change and purchase decisions. Applying that to healthcare is a whole other ball game and combines all of my interests in a way no other sector can.

To what end though? Say we got it right and my future view of healthcare was achieved. What would that mean for society?

Walking to a meeting today, I saw Tim Ferguson in a wheelchair being pushed down the street. He was one of my favourite TV personalities growing up and it was a very harsh reminder that he has been battling multiple-sclerosis for some time. Even though I don’t know the details of how his last few years have gone, when I remember how he was on television, it was getting the better of him. And it was confronting.

It made me think that my view of healthcare is not to enable people to live longer. I understand the economic and environmental burden of that. What I want to achieve is somehow enabling people to live their lives better. To be more informed about the choices they make, so they can do the things most meaningful to them. In whatever their definition of that word is.

I would rather spend 70 years making the most of every day than 100 slowly fading away. It’s fair to say I have made the most of many days, professionally and socially. However, I have certainly wasted many days of my life. Some wallowing in self pity, others simply too hungover to move. But as I’ve started to find my purpose, those days are further and further apart. Every day that I get to wake up and work on a new challenge in this sector is something I relish.

So what is the purpose of all of this? By trying to find new ways to help people live better, more informed lives, I have found my own way to live a better, more informed life. That doesn’t mean I’m not foreshadowing many more days of wallowing in self pity or being too hungover to move. But even when that happens, I know I will be thinking about the role I play in this sector and what I can do to make a difference. It’s the only way I have found to try and make the most of every day.

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