Built For Patients By Patients

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By Eric M. Stone

Healthcare is at the top of every politician’s to-do list this election cycle, but they seem to be looking in all the wrong places for answers.

The New York Times recently employed home renovation as an illustrative analogy to explain the differences in Democratic candidates’ healthcare proposals. The images of lumpy masses tacked onto teetering structures or unappealing Soviet-style apartment buildings representing different candidate’s plans foreshadowed a bleak forecast for U.S. citizens – all of whom will invariably become patients.

Even worse, this compelling thought experiment in how to build a system that provides coverage does nothing to address the urgent question of quality of care and patient experience. In this home renovation comparison, patient experience is the equivalent of livability – arguably the most long-term aspect of a renovation.

A well-intentioned home with an affordable mortgage is still sub-optimal if it doesn’t work for the homeowner’s lifestyle. Perhaps it’s missing a bedroom, is drafty, or always loses power in a storm. The experience of living in the home is such that the family soon puts it on the market and seeks another option. By the same token, a quality local provider and an affordable insurance plan works only if the patient feels supported and cared for.

For the most part, homeowners drive decisions about a home’s livability – its layout, furniture, appliances and more. In healthcare, the patient experience has long been determined by the health system and its physicians. For decades, the experience has completely evaded the patient’s control, or arguably even their influence. 

Today, the industry is increasingly focused on, or at least talking about, improving patient experience. Regulators are designing reimbursement plans that hinge on patient satisfaction surveys and treatment outcomes. Systems are building direct feedback loops for patients. 

To optimize this renovation, it’s critical that stakeholders turn to patients as the most important stakeholders in this change. They will ultimately determine its livability and should have a determining voice in its evolution. An often-overlooked opportunity that has the potential to redefine patient experience for the better is to enlist patient entrepreneurs. 

We live in an era of innovation self-service. People are empowered in ways never before possible to design and build their own solutions to everyday problems. From dog walking to car sharing, entrepreneurs are redesigning our most routine of experiences. Why not healthcare? 

Transformation is possible because advances in technology and ever diminishing price points are making cutting edge devices, robust cloud computing capabilities, and advanced scientific platforms available to nearly everyone. Investors – sometimes even hospitals themselves – are increasingly willing to bet on patient-driven upstart ideas.

Those same hospitals are building innovation labs where nascent concepts can be nurtured and take root. And health systems are becoming increasingly sophisticated at measuring return on investment, making it possible for patient entrepreneurs to solidify their cases for commercialization and transformation in the care setting.

And many patients have already taken advantage of this opening. Recent health innovations have demonstrated that patient entrepreneurs have the potential to deliver massive patient-centered advances to medical experience as well; efforts like Care + Wear’s aesthetically pleasing tube socks to cover PICC lines, Curable Health’s chronic pain management platform, or my own company’s needle free blood draw technology. 

So instead of relying on a precariously balanced house of cards, politicians and health leaders should be engaging the people that know the system (and its shortfalls) best – our patients. In a time of easy access to powerful technologies and an increasing reliance on self-determination, this message of “built for patients, by patients” must take hold.

Eric M. Stone is the Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of Velano Vascular. A patient advocate and serial healthcare entrepreneur, Stone is a National Trustee of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation.

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