Has health technology outgrown its humanity?
It is highly likely that the following statement was wrongly attributed to Albert Einstein, but we can hope that he, at least, also had internal debates on the subject.
“It has become chillingly clear that our technology has surpassed our humanity.”
At SJF Ventures, we are both impact and venture capitalists, so much of our thinking goes into how technology can dramatically improve livelihoods. We are also active healthcare investors who have helped grow the digital health ecosystem and helped accelerate innovations to improve healthcare access and outcomes. We have seen the rise of electronic health records, cloud-based software, connected medical devices, digital health apps, data platforms and artificial intelligence to improve health. And we’ve invested in many of these innovations because we know that healthcare as we’ve known it needs to change.
Health care costs are rising too quickly, the demand for care is increasingly outstripping the supply of clinicians, and our national health is suffering. Addressing chronic disease through a disease prevention and management strategy is key to improving health outcomes. About 86% of all health expenditure is devoted to the treatment of patients with one or more chronic diseases. Nearly half of all American adults suffer from at least one chronic disease and a quarter suffer from two or more. In 2014, seven chronic diseases were responsible for nearly 65% of all deaths.
The model of health care delivery must change. We strongly believe that health must increasingly be managed outside the traditional frameworks of healthcare providers in order to both contain costs and improve patient health outcomes. This is especially true for a chronic disease, such as diabetes, a condition that many of our portfolio companies approach from different angles.
To enable the delivery of sustained patient care, we believe the healthcare ecosystem needs both new technologies to extend the reach of clinicians; and new models of care that deploy empathy and personalized problem solving through human interaction. With real humans. In particular, we believe that people play a critical role in reaching the hardest-to-engage populations and, therefore, the most expensive subset. The digital health community has often overlooked the importance of people in the equation. While technologies help clinicians increase their reach and engagement and make the healthcare system more efficient, human interaction adds a deeper dimension, also significant solution. We need to give clinicians, social workers, health coaches, and care managers technological tools to enable them to dramatically expand what they can do better than technology.
Healthcare professionals need to leverage technology to reach growing numbers of patients where they are in daily life, create frequent touchpoints, and make clinician workflows as efficient as possible by channeling tasks repetitive and feedback loops through computerized systems. We should leverage people to do what people can uniquely do: build relationships and patient trust, share empathy, and solve complex problems and unique pathways.
SJF Ventures recently invested in mPulse Mobile because it provides a modern, patient-preferred secure text messaging channel to reach literally millions of patients with personalized communication. It can also provide AI-powered virtual agents to answer questions and collect patient information. This technology frees up time for care management teams to focus on patients and issues that require more human-centered assistance. mPulse’s product even allows for a seamless transition from a virtual agent to a live clinician when certain issues are triggered to show that a patient needs human intervention. We invested in mPulse because its value proposition demonstrates our thesis around technology and people. It allows both to achieve higher utilization, improve healthcare efficiency and improve patient care.
We have also invested in a company that places a little more emphasis on the human side of care delivery through a network of diabetes coaches. Fit4D provides an example of how a network of Certified Diabetes Coaches (CDEs) can leverage technology to expand their reach while providing the 1:1 human connection needed for patients who are not adhering to their care plans and who have high levels of A1C. Fit4D coaches have the experience and empathy to build those personal relationships that help patients overcome the behavioral and socio-economic barriers so common with diabetes. Leveraging a combination of workflow technology and behavioral science algorithms, these humans (or coaches) reach far beyond patient panel scale than could ever be managed in person or even via software. basic phone. Again, humans and technology do what each does best.
We can’t let the buzz around the digital health community forget that the challenges we face require multi-faceted solutions. The people who deploy the technology, not the other way around.
We don’t believe technology has overtaken our humanity in health, and we hope the digital health community won’t let it.
About the Author: Stephanie Nieman is a Principal at SJF Ventures based in Durham, North Carolina. SJF Ventures is a venture capital fund that invests in high-growth, positive-impact companies across the United States and an active investor in the healthcare sector.