The year of the human?

As healthcare devolves into a numbers game, let’s remember who’s #1.

I’ve been interviewing hospital lab folks over the past  several weeks, inviting their appraisals of today’s arterial blood-gas  analyzers – machines used in ORs, ERs, CVORs and critical care units. These analyzers have become smarter and smarter, not only in terms of their accuracy  in reporting results, but in how they detect and correct their own  imperfections – some even document their corrective actions, making it easier for  the hospital to stay in compliance with regulations governing this branch of patient  testing. As one interviewee said, “If it ain’t documented, it ain’t done.”

Part of what I get paid to do is what I call articulate  listening, and to me, the most telling sounds I heard in these interviews weren’t  the insights these hard-working clinicians shared. They were the background  noises on the other end of the phone – a dog barking, a baby crying, a child  running into the room, a colleague with a STAT request – as these people tried to  squeeze a phone interview into their busy lives from either home or office, 60  minutes that would mean a modest honorarium, some extra cash during the  holidays.

Could we possibly cram more into our busy lives? On New  Year’s Day my brother Tom sent our family an e-mail showing photo after photo  of young people sitting side by side in social situations – at the movies, on a  date, at a game, on the beach, in a café – and every face was staring down into a  smartphone. The e-mail concluded with a picture of Einstein and his famous quote:

“I fear the day that technology  will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of  idiots.”

As medical technologies get smarter and smarter, are we  getting dumber and dumber about what really matters?

Physician-bloggers have noted that medicine is becoming  dominated by point-and-click reporting of steps, values and outcomes. My  hospital lab interview subjects speak of the increasing responsibility of  documenting every move they and their staffs make. As health care professionals  increasingly stare down into screens, pecking or thumbing their way around  keyboards, we as medical marketers should stay relentless and unapologetic in  keeping our messages simple and people-focused. Yes, it’s about outcomes, but  who owns the outcome? Yes, it’s about accountability, but who are we accountable  to? Ultimately, the patient.

We’re all somebody’s patient. We all know what it’s like to put  our trust in our doctors and the tests and tools they use. When thinking about how  to market our devices, I think it may be more important than ever to imagine  we’re the patient and what it is we’d want to know. I don’t think it’s numbers.  I think it’s something that would cause me to worry less and have more hope in  my own healthy future – that the diagnosis is reassuringly spot-on, that my body  will heal, that my quality of life will improve. As health care threatens to  become less personal, let’s continue to market our wares by accentuating not  just the positive, but the positively human benefits. We’re at a crossroads.  Let’s keep the personal in personalized medicine lest we lose our way.

– Rob Kinslow Rock The Rules™ blog, a new resource for the medical device industry.

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