At the end of every year and through into the next, health IT pundits spend time holding forth on the 12 months to come. We select a few technologies to praise and a few to criticize, make predictions about and write up our thoughts about broad trends we see gathering momentum.
Being one of those aforementioned pundits, I’ve taken part in this ritual many times, hopefully contributing a bit of value in the process. I’d like to think I’ve made some valuable predictions or challenged your thinking in a productive way, or even helped you make a decision or two.
However, one thing that bugs me about these year-end/year up exercises is that they’re so inward-looking: healthcare editors writing for healthcare audiences about trends in the healthcare industry. Certainly, focusing in tightly on where healthcare (or even drilling down deeply into health IT) is worth doing, but it can be stifling too.
The problem is that when we focus so tightly on how things are usually done – or even how they can be improved using the same familiar sets of tools – we’re bypassing countless ideas that could help us do things better. This includes critical things that we don’t do well now, such as providing sophisticated care coordination or helping patients engage deeply with their care process.
By no means am I suggesting that there’s a lack of wild, wonderful creative thinkers in the healthcare industry—in fact, I’m sure each of us knows more than a few such folks. Rather, I’m arguing that as we look at the 2020s, we might want to give those innovation muscles more exercise. And at least where I’m concerned, perhaps the best way to spark ideas is to get out of your own neighborhood.
One editor at a news organization I worked for many years ago used to say that reporters should drive through a different neighborhood every day. In my early 20s, I didn’t quite get it, but I’ve come to appreciate how right he was. If we get too habit-driven, we no longer know what we’re not seeing, and it dulls our intuition. We get caught up in routine and miss things that are right in front of us. Obviously, this problem extends well beyond healthcare, but given the scope and complexity of the problems our industry faces, the need for keeping our eyes open is particularly pressing.
Maybe this year, as we enter a shiny new decade, it’s time to do something different. Walk down a different street in a neighborhood you never visit. Read a book about beekeeping and see what it might tell you about hospital operations. Imagine how you’d run a medical clinic on the moon. If all it does is stretch your mind a bit, you’ve already won.