The People Geography of Healthcare | Human-Centric Thinking (Part 1)

PersonLately, we are hearing a lot of talk about patient-centric care, ePatients and a myriad of other approaches to putting the patient in the center of the healthcare system. Like Web 2.0 and the dot com era before it, and more recently, the terms cloud computing and big data, there are certain phrases that require deeper levels of thinking to truly understand what they mean. CLOUD’s vision was born from one patient’s journey through a fight with breast cancer; a journey that continued this past week; a journey that inspires this first post in a whole series on the “people geography of healthcare.”

Part 1 of this series frames this CLOUD vision, so that Part 2, which explains our journey, can be better understood in this new context. Patient portals are one easy example of how words can be co-opted and used beyond their actual meaning. Is a patient portal really patient-centric when the “portal” requires a patient to log-in to a website connected to a specific system at a specific hospital or provider? On a patient’s healthcare journey, there are likely dozens of touch-points with various healthcare providers, it is simply not patient-centric when to access needed information, the patient must log-in to all these different portals and then collate and aggregate the data. Although the interface is graphically oriented because of HTML and the Web, it really is nothing more than a 21st century terminal log-in to a centralized system. New tools at all levels but old information technology (IT) thinking, not human-centric.

Cloud & MounatinsAnother word that is starting to pop up more frequently is ecosystem. At my talk in Rome at TEDxTrastevere last fall, I reflected on this concept, going further than my original comment at TEDxAustin a few years earlier. In my talk at TEDxAustin on “Reweaving the Fabric of the Internet to Transform Humanity,” I said the following, “from the perspective of a raindrop, there is no such thing as a cloud.” At TEDxTrastevere, in my talk titled, “Can a New Internet Change the Human Ecosystem,” I went further in this line of thinking and put out this challenge. “Can we create a human ecosystem, capable of harnessing the same force of raindrops in the water ecosystem? Can 7B human beings acting together carve a canyon through the heart of cancer?

The key to an ecosystem is that it is dynamic. It has no center. It is fluid. One hospital or medical center simply can’t be an ecosystem. As I noted in my TEDx talk at Rome, the same raindrop that flows in a river at one moment could be evaporating in the next moment, rising back up into a new cloud, a cloud that might last only a few moments or might erupt into an anvil cloud, unleashing not just torrents of rain but lightning as well, as the raindrops collide with each other.

RiverIn the case of Maureen and my journey this past week, this evolved thinking on ecosystems is vital, because in order to be patient-centric, we need first to be human-centric. In order for our ecosystem of personal cancer care to have any meaning, we needed our “raindrops” to collide with other raindrops in our own unique cloud. Our oncologist at MD Anderson in Houston, our new friend at Texas Oncology in Dallas, as well as our primary oncologist at Texas Oncology here in Austin are all vital components of our cancer ecosystem. Success in our fight with cancer will not come from patient-centric thinking but instead from human-centric thinking, because we are only one player, one raindrop, in this larger ecosystem. Like clouds and rain, these interactions occur in the context of a larger ecosystem, a system that is constantly evolving. More on that in Part 2…