Applying Apple’s Genius to the Health Care Conundrum

Steve_Jobs_Headshot_2010-CROPIn a recent Commonwealth Fund Report, the U.S. health care system ranked dead last for quality, compared to 10 other industrialized nations. This is the fourth consecutive time that the U.S. has landed at the bottom of this list since 2004. The report uses 2011 data, collected before the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Americans can be cautiously optimistic of some performance improvement in the future.

Still, this report begs the question – WHY? The U.S. is far and away the wealthiest and most technologically sophisticated nation on earth. Why do we continue to struggle in conquering social challenges like health care?

It is encouraging to know that some of our nation’s best and brightest thinkers are working to find solutions. Apple’s announcement a couple of months ago of their move into the mobile health care (mHealth) space is one good example. The announcement harkened back to Steve Jobs’ now legendary product introductions for the iPod and iPhone. Marketing thought leader Jim Connolly referred to to these as Job’s need to “do work that matters”. Connolly points out that Jobs (aka: Apple) was never in the business of inventing cutting edge technology. Rather, he re-imagined existing technology so completely that the world changed in its wake. For Jobs, THAT was doing work that matters. (And not incidentally, it has been HUGELY successful for the world’s best known consumer brand!).

So, how does this seemingly simple concept apply to one of the oldest and most entrenched institutions in our country? How can we re-imagine the American health care system?

“Doing work that matters” might be too intangible for the regimented, regulated, documented, and clinical evidence-based world of health care. Lucky for us, Jobs boiled it down to a pretty simple formula. Doing work that matters means understanding what the customer (patient) values most, and doing THAT better than anyone. As the Commonwealth Fund Report shows, that’s still a pretty high bar for the U.S. Health Care System at the moment.

At its core, health care should be about enhancing quality of life. Make it easy to understand and achieve, high quality, and affordable. This sounds pretty obvious, particularly in a Post-Affordable Care Act world. But most of the complaints about health care that persist today have not changed much since 2010 when Congress passed the ACA. A fundamental and systematic shift in culture is still forthcoming. Some practical steps to getting there are not new or even original ideas. But these could contribute to the effort:

1. Invert the Pyramid – In health care terms, this means engaging patients as active participants in their care. Patients are customers after all, and the most important factor in the health care equation. Every participant in the system should focus on delighting that customer. If they are not serving them directly, they had better be serving someone who is.

2. Embrace the “Genius of the and” – Change is hard, and you can’t turn a battleship on a dime. Recreating a health care system that has been decades in the making isn’t easy, and it isn’t going to happen overnight. But it’s also not an either/or proposition. Innovative, patient-centered solutions (such as mHealth technology) can help bridge the gap between incremental change and wholesale revolution.

3. FOCUS – The defining difference between Apple and virtually everyone else is their ability to focus on one or two specific goals at a time. Steve Jobs once famously said  “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundreds of other good ideas”.

Want to solve the “Health Care Conundrum”?

Let’s start by taking a tip from Steve Jobs – Let’s start doing work that matters!


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