November 15, 2010

The Future of Health Care: Robots and Networks

We all know the grim statistics: chronic disease is exploding in the U.S. while the number of primary care health professionals declines. But what are we going to do about it?

The most radical idea I’ve heard recently was proposed at one of the most staid events I’ve attended: the Connected Health Symposium. Roll the tape:

Joe Kvedar also blogged the speech: “Emotional Automation: Bonding with Technology to Improve Health.” Check out this idea:

Can we set up systems that are extensions of our providers that will allow patients to feel cared for by their doctor but be interacting with a piece of software or a robot?

Continuing this theme of interaction with inanimate objects, watch David Rose talk about GlowCaps and other enchanted objects at Mayo Transform 2010:

Or just read his fantastic summary in 131 characters:

Smartphone health apps won’t be used daily. Self-report fails. Texting programs annoy. Enchanted objects will have the most impact.

Now for the third idea: Hands-on care by health professionals can’t scale. One-on-one advice from professional intermediaries, like librarians, can’t scale. Networked peer support, research, and advice can scale. In other words: Altruism scales.

My inspiration for this idea comes directly from the work of Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, who observe that altruism spreads in networks, but I’m adding my deep knowledge of consumer behavior online, which most recently got pushed and prodded on a panel about patient communities.

So:

Can a mobile device be a comfort object, akin to Joe’s pet rocks and Tamagotchi? (See also: the teens example in The Power of Mobile.)

Is it possible to quantify the return on investment on love, whether it’s delivered in person, over the phone, through a screen, or… who knows what’s next?

Is it time to bond with technology to improve health?