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Health IT Innovation Requires Knowing What Job Are We Hiring Health Data For

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Health IT Innovation Requires Knowing What Job Are We Hiring Health Data For

Clayton Christensen has a famous story about innovation. A fast food chain tried using ‘proven’ methods to improve milkshake sales: they segmented the market and produced demographic profiles to determine the optimal combination of flavors and textures. It didn’t work.  So they approached Clayton for help. His researchers approached the problem by starting with this question “What job were people hiring the milkshake for?” They went to a restaurant, watched buyers and got to know them well.

They discovered that the milkshake did different jobs at different times of the day. Morning buyers hired the milkshake to occupy themselves on commutes and to stave off hunger until lunchtime. Afternoon buyers hired the milkshake as a special treat for children after school. The morning buyers wanted something that was interesting, lasting and one-handed. Afternoon buyers wanted something that was easy for children to consume. The chain decided to sell different milkshakes for the different jobs; a thicker and chunkier milkshake for morning buyers, and a thinner, simpler milkshake for afternoon buyers. It worked and sales boomed.

This well-known story remains a lesson in how innovation requires an intimate understanding of the job at hand. I was reminded of this story while attending a talk by Richard Alvarez, former President and CEO of Canada Health Infoway. The agency coordinates federal and provincial healthcare innovation and information technology investments. Alvarez expressed a number of concerns over what the agency has been able to achieve. He feels that Canada’s pace of integrating healthcare through new information technologies is falling behind: most of us still cannot e-mail our doctor or make appointments online, e-prescribing is almost non-existent and patients do not have enough access to their own health records. According to Alvarez, the next wave involves “consumers”, including integration of clinical health records with data captured from personal wearable devices.

Leaders taking up the charge of improving healthcare through information technology might want to keep the milkshake story top of mind. “What job are we hiring health data for?” In our experience with over 21 trials with Connected Wellness, we have observed that patients hire health data and information to help them understand what to do next: “what changes in my daily activities will help me be as well as I can be and save me a trip to my doctor’s office or an emergency room?” Clinicians hire health data to get the most complete picture of their patients as possible. This picture will become more incomplete unless we find ways to directly connect data sources to patients.

We encourage policy makers, administrators, and like-minded entrepreneurs with a stake in our healthcare information technology investments to remember that truly insightful innovation requires intimately understanding this question: “What job are we hiring health data for?”