Throwback Trillions™ Thursday: Healthcare in the Age of Trillions

December 1, 2016 in Connected World
John Crowley
Digital Principal

Banner image source: NEC Corporation of America

This blog post is an excerpt from the whitepaper, “Healthcare in the Age of Trillions: The MAYA Manifesto.”

A Case for the Next Literacy

The technological problems of fixing healthcare are thorny, but they’re only one piece of the puzzle. We say this with some authority, having worked with the government’s “Department of Mad Scientists” (also known as DARPA) to pioneer the research and design of a visualization-based collaborative decision-support system that unseated a billion dollar system for a fraction of the cost and that today provides truly transformative results.

For the record, the system that came out of our labs provided a 300% increase in decision-making capabilities and took less than one day to learn (the old one took one to two weeks), while taking up less bandwidth than email. It was adopted six years ahead of schedule and is credited with saving countless lives. It was considered the “Command Post of the Future” back when we began a decade ago. Today, it still is. While it is very much an example of the future in use today for mission command, it is also in use for drug discovery and disaster relief logistics.

John “Jake” Kolojejchick, the Chief Scientist and one of the founders of the spin-out company that took this technology to market says that, “one logistician proudly noted recently that in twenty minutes he had used the system to save a million dollars in costs.” Disruptive technological change is possible, but hard; the harder problem is uncovering unmet or unvoiced needs, having a vision for change, and reaching broad human consensus about what to do next. Fortunately, human-centered designers specialize in just these types of challenges. The ultimate goal of HCD is to reach a vision of the future that considers all stakeholders, and presents a workable means for getting there from where we are. An agreed-upon vision of the future: that’s Design with a capital “D.”

Learning to Lead by Design

If the big, established players have no ability or incentive to promote systemic healthcare change, where will the leadership come from? MAYA Design believes that those fluent in human-centered design can be one source of that leadership. If you understand the language of HCD you hear things differently. You see the world with a new pair of eyes, and write the future with your efforts. You grasp the underlying mechanics of change and the importance of ecological thinking.

We need enlightened healthcare leaders to lead by design. We are not however advocating that that leadership be delegated to a small part of their organization or to an outside “design consultancy.” Leaving the work of designing our future to a caste of “design high priests” would be a serious mistake. Imagine the world we’d be living in if, instead of teaching the “three Rs” in public schools at the turn of the last century, we set up reading, writing, and arithmetic consultancies. When you wanted to write or read something or solve a math problem you would go to a specialized professional. They would tend the numbers and become experts in adding, subtracting, and multiplying them together, and you would pay less for the easy parts and more for tricky things like word problems or calculus. No need to worry your head over such things; let the professionals handle it. As laughable as that sounds, that’s the world we have today with regard to design.

Responding to a Digital Transformation

In fact, for truly transformative change, HCD must become the next basic literacy for the 21st century. That’s why MAYA Design recently founded a design education entity, LUMA Institute, with the mission of getting HCD out of the hands of designers and into the hands of everyone from K through CEO. You may wonder, since we are an innovation and design consultancy, why would we want others to master the basics of our profession? Don’t we have to hoard our information and expertise in order to succeed? The answer is that we don’t, and the reason is what everybody keeps saying but nobody seems to believe: the whole game is changing.

The world is about to undergo a profoundly disruptive shift. The advent of “pervasive computing” is a big part of that coming transformation.

“When the Internet of Things becomes a reality, when every paper towel, soap dispenser, refrigerator, shirt, shoe, friend, or family member can contribute to our personal lifetime EHR, when trillions of nodes begin to report for duty, ten thousand MAYA Designs won’t be enough to create a world that works well.”

The future can’t be based upon the information asymmetries of the past, in which only a select minority of information technologists OR human-centered designers grasped a part of the vision and had the requisite skills— no more than the 20th century could have gotten very far with a select minority of reading, writing, and arithmetical consultants. We need to invest in design thinking as the next fundamental literacy of our times. Otherwise we face a grave specter.

“The danger from computers is not that they will eventually get as smart as men, but that we will meanwhile agree to meet them halfway.”

—Bernard Avishai, past editor for the Harvard Business Review

In healthcare, we can’t afford to meet computers like Watson halfway. Nor can we just hope to convince the establishment that it’s vital to build well-designed, human-centric information ecologies. The tower of Babel created by our current way of thinking is far too high to surmount without agreeing to speak a new human-centered language of health and wellness.

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