Introducing The Zero Patient Engagement Model

 In Design Strategy, Medical Product Design

The current US healthcare system transformation underway is an evolution being mistaken for a revolution. We are shifting from a physician to a patient centered system, and the idea of increasing Patient Engagement is at the heart of it all.

Spend five minutes on Google researching the term “Patient Engagement” and there’s a good chance you won’t come to terms with a single definition. Quite simply it means increasing the responsibility and involvement of people in their own healthcare and wellness. In the article DIY Health: Ignore this trend at Your Peril, I explained how and why people are taking more control and responsibility over their own healthcare.

Medical device and healthcare companies will increasingly develop products and services that require patients to accept this responsibility. But what if some people don’t want this responsibility or the desire to be involved wears off? Shouldn’t we ultimately be developing medical products, services, and systems that are invisible and require little to no patient interaction?

There is a parallel in the adaptation of technology in the last 30 years.

In his book The Invisible Computer, Dr. Don Norman writes about the early days of the personal computer. Technologists were developing computers for people like them rather than mainstream consumers. He points out that we sit down to write, not word process and to balance bank accounts, not to fill in cells on a spreadsheet. I contend that people want to be healthy, not fidget with technology.

Placing the patient at the center of their own healthcare universe makes perfect sense and is the right first step. My philosophy is rooted in human centered design, or putting people and their needs first, so I get it. After all, no one cares more about your health than you, right?

A shining example of revolution in the healthcare industry is in the sleep apnea device market. Most of those companies utilize CPAP technology and keep cranking out cumbersome, clunky masks that tether a person to a blower on their nightstand. In stark contrast, ImThera has developed The Aura 6000, an implantable neuro-stimulator for obstructive sleep apnea. It simply senses when a person is having trouble breathing then stimulates a nerve which causes the body to open up the airway. They have virtually eliminated the patient from the equation, leaving them with only the occasional task of charging the battery and a better night’s sleep.

Medical device manufacturers should continue to promote patient engagement as one strategy, but at the same time invent new technologies whose goal is to eliminate patient engagement.

I anticipate a revolution with disruptive technologies that remove the patient from the equation.

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