Another Dubious Tech Solution in Healthcare?

When I saw the recent news about a pill with an ingestible sensor to track medication adherence/compliance, essentially the next level of Medication Event Monitoring Systems, I thought again about what I refer to as the “Belson Fallacy” – the belief that tech can solve every problem.

proteus discover image
The Proteus Discover

What I found particularly interesting was that this unique drug-device combination is intended for the “treatment of schizophrenia, acute treatment of manic and mixed episodes linked with bipolar I disorder”, conditions that can include symptoms such as “extremely disordered thinking and behavior that impairs daily functioning“. So while on the surface, I do see a certain logic in having another means to ensure that patients are taking their medications, does this tech approach stand up under a little further scrutiny?

The manufacturer of the device was quoted as observing that, “Consumers already manage important tasks like banking, shopping, and communicating with friends and family by using their smartphones, as they go about their daily lives.” And while this is certainly true, doesn’t it take a leap of faith to believe that the human motivation that drives the use of consumer APPS would translate directly to human motivation that will drive patients on drug therapy to be compliant, especially patients who may not be thinking clearly – or possibly willing to intentionally obfuscate for reasons such as fear of drug side-effects?

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The Mythic Tech?

I’ve been attending a variety of presentations on the application of tech solutions to healthcare problems from opioid addiction to wearable monitors.  Very often at front-and-center of these presentations are modern tech tools like data analytics and the Internet of Things (IoT).  Ranging from curious to potentially innovative, the solutions presented triggered my recollection of Gavin Belson’s bold claim above about how tech can solve every problem.

“If we can make your audio and video files smaller, we can make cancer smaller. And hunger. And… AIDS.”

– Gavin Belson, Chief Innovation Officer, Hooli

What makes Belson’s outlook humorous to me and others who share my view, is how he delivered the claim with a calm, blind confidence that ignored the unfounded bridge from audio-visual file compression to a cure for AIDS!

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been involved in a variety of MedTech solutions over the years, and I’m very open to how tech currently under development may be applied within the health domain. It “makes sense” to me, for example, that data analytics tools can be helpful to gain better insight and understanding of a problem toward the construction of value-based care solutionsMachine learning may also make significant inroads into repetitive procedures that are currently handled by physicians, freeing them to focus on patients in higher value ways. Other notable applications of tech to health, however, have not been wildly successful to date.

Consider Google Flu Trends and IBM Watson Health for Oncology. Noting tech solution struggles in health is not to suggest that further attempts shouldn’t be made or that future applications won’t lead to breakthroughs. I believe certain tech applications will prove useful solutions to certain problems. But I feel that tech often overshadows more human interactions that can be more effective in addressing what is often at the core of health problems, human behavior.

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Did Henry Ford’s Customers Really Want Faster Horses?

Portrait of Henry Ford (ca. 1919)
Portrait of Henry Ford (ca. 1919) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I don’t know if the use of “celebrity quotations” is a new trend that I noticed, or if I’m just fatigued from reading such worn-out proclamations and overly sensitive to them.  The quote that caught my attention recently was the oft-referenced quote that is attributed to Henry Ford about innovation, “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, then they would have said a faster horse.”

The problem with this particular quote is not only that Ford may have never said those words, but that so many people seem to have latched onto the quote as some kind of proof source in support their world view.  The recycling of the quote seems to have cemented it into the mythology of our times.

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