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Primary Care Practitioners and Technology Innovators Might Benefit from a Little More Cross-Pollination

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Sometimes it feels like we have two worlds in health care.  We have a formal system where providers deliver high quality, professional care.  And, we have the social system in which patients make all of the daily lifestyle choices that impact their health and wellness.  Formal health care services account for about 10% of an individual’s health status while behavior accounts for about 40%.  The rest is genetics, social circumstance, and environmental factors.  (For fellow wonks, here’s my source: Schreoder, S. (2007). We can do better – improving the health of the American people. New England Journal of Medicine)

Our formal system has invested heavily in health IT to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of clinical processes.  Meanwhile, individuals have been investing their own resources in consumer health information, devices and apps.  There are now about 100,000 mobile health applications available to consumers.  The quantified self is a significant cultural trend of our time.  Yet sadly, the two systems don’t seem to talk to each other yet.

This divide became vivid for me over the past week.  I attended two conferences: Primary Care Today and the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) Discovery.  Primary Care Today is Canada’s largest annual family medicine conference.  It is an opportunity for family physicians, nurse practitioners and pharmacists to upgrade their knowledge while checking out new technologies and services for their field.  OCE Discovery is Canada’s biggest innovation-to-commercialization conference.  It showcases leading-edge research, best practices and technologies.  Here are a few examples that caught my attention: Vibrant – a wearable for chronic pain relief; Sound Options – a direct-to-consumer therapy for Tinnitus; and, Muse – a brain-sensing headband that can be used to improve mental functions like focus and relaxation.

I can’t help but wonder if the two conferences might benefit from a little cross-pollination.  They were both in the same city within a couple of days of each other.  Health technology innovators need to understand clinical culture and processes in order to get providers to use their technology.  Healthcare providers need to start thinking more about how to leverage consumer health technologies for their practices, such as the valuable behavioral data these devices collect.  If they don’t, they might miss an opportunity to leverage technologies that could help them influence the 40% that contributes to their patients’ health – their daily lifestyle choices.