Those of us of a certain age remember the Timex slogan that bragged about its watches’ durability: “It takes a licking and keeps on ticking.” A recent article about our military, of all things, made me wish we had a healthcare system that prized that kind of durability.
I can never resist analogies between the U.S. healthcare system and the U.S. military system. They’re both huge, they’re both wildly expensive, they both rely on a combination of high tech and front-line people, and they both protect us from threats. In some ways, both are the best in the world, and, in other ways, both have weaknesses that are embarrassing. And, as I wrote last year, both are often still fighting the wrong wars.
Ms. Herz notes how Americans love innovation, but:
This mythos informs a narrative that what is valuable is The New—the upgrade to something bigger, badder, and sexier…What the United States needs to reinvigorate its defense base, compete with China, and win the global economy must be more innovation.
Except the United States does not suffer from a lack of innovation; it suffers from a lack of resilience.
Episode 53 of “The THCB Gang” was live-streamed on Thursday, May 5 at 1pm PT -4PM ET. Matthew Holt (@boltyboy) was joined by regulars: futurists Ian Morrison (@seccurve) & Jeff Goldsmith; privacy expert and now entrepreneur Deven McGraw @HealthPrivacy; policy expert consultant/author Rosemarie Day (@Rosemarie_Day1); medical historian Mike Magee (@drmikemagee), & THCB regular writer Kim Bellard (@kimbbellard)
Matthew was celebrating Chelsea’s Champion’s League Semi final win, but the rest of the gang talked about some big picture issues behind public health, COVIUD and health care policy!
The video is below but if you’d rather listen to the podcast. it will be available on our iTunes & Spotify channels from Friday.
Raise your hand if you had to go through the Hunger Games labyrinth to score a COVID-19 vaccine earlier this year – figuring out which phone number(s)/website(s) to try, navigating it, answering all the questions, searching for available appointments within reasonable distances, and, usually, having to try all over again. Or, raise your hand if you’ve had trouble figuring out how to use an Electronic Health Record (EHR) or an associated Patient Portal.
Maybe you thought it was you. Maybe you thought you weren’t tech-savvy enough. But, a trio of usability experts reassure us, it’s not: it’s just bad design. And we should speak up.
“Everyone everywhere: A distributed and embedded paradigm for usability,” by Professors Michael B. Twidale, David M. Nichols, and Christopher P. Lueg, was published in Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology (JASIST) in March, but I didn’t see it until the University of Illinois School of Information Sciences (where Dr. Twidale is on faculty) put out a press release a few days ago.
The authors believe that bad design has costs — to users and to society — yet: “The total costs of bad usability over the life of a product are rarely computed. It is almost like we as a society do not want to know how much money has been wasted and how much irritation and misery caused.”
Whatever the numbers are, they’re too high.
As Dr. Twidale said:
Making a computer system easier to use is a tiny fraction of the cost of making the computer system work at all. So why aren’t things fixed? Because people put up with bad interfaces and blame themselves. We want to say, ‘No, it’s not your fault! It is bad design.'”
He specifically referenced the vaccine example: “When hard to use software means a vulnerable elderly person cannot book a vaccination, that’s a social justice issue. If you can’t get things to work, it can further exclude you from the benefits that technology is bringing to everyone else.”
Since I first heard about them, I have been fascinated, and dismayed, by the concept of “million dollar blocks.” For those of you unfamiliar with the term, it doesn’t refer to, say, Beverly Hills, Chicago’s Gold Coast, or Manhattan’s Hudson Yards — areas where the wealthy congregate. No, it refers to city blocks for which society spends over a million dollars annually to incarcerate residents of that block.
I, of course, have to think about the healthcare parallels.
The concept dates back many years, credited to Eric Cadora, now at Justice Mapping, and Laura Kurgan, a professor of architecture at Columbia University, where she is the Director of the Center for Spatial Research (CSR). The power of the concept is to use data visualization to illustrate the problem.
Here, for example, is CSR’s map of Brooklyn for prison spending:
CSR describes the findings as follows:
The maps suggest that the criminal justice system has become the predominant government institution in these communities and that public investment in this system has resulted in significant costs to other elements of our civic infrastructure — education, housing, health, and family. Prisons and jails form the distant exostructure of many American cities today.
Quick now: what’s the biggest single component of President Biden’s infrastructure plan (a.k.a The American Jobs Plan)? Fixing roads and bridges? Upgrading the power grid? Preparing the nation for electric vehicles? Giving all Americans access to broadband? Wrong. If you guessed home and community services, you’ve been paying attention.
President Biden is proposing $400b (out of some $2 trillion total spending) for this component, compared to, for example, $115b for roads and bridges or $174b to support electric vehicles. He wants to improve the pay of home care workers, fund more of those jobs, and ensure more people have access to home and community services.
All laudable goals, but not nearly enough, and not spent on the right things. I worry that we may miss a generational opportunity to fundamentally rethink the infrastructure for long-term care.
Opponents of the Biden plan argue that this part of the program is not “infrastructure” in any normal use of the word, and cynics believe it is more about satisfying the SEIU. On the other hand, long-term care advocates worry that it doesn’t do anything to improve nursing homes, nor the existing long-term care financing mechanisms.
No one is happy with our long-term care system, except maybe the people profiting from it. We spend well over $300b annually on long-term care services, plus billons more in unpaid care, but that doesn’t seem to be money well spent. Long-term care makes the rest of our messed-up healthcare system look futuristic. Since 70% of us are likely to require some kind of long-term care assistance during our lifetime, this is an issue we should all care about.
A couple years ago I wrote about how healthcare should take customer experience guru Dan Gingiss’s advice: do simple better. Now new research illustrates why this is so hard: when it comes to trying to make improvements, people would rather add than subtract.
That, in a nutshell, may help explain why our healthcare system is such a mess.
The research, from University of Virginia researchers, made the cover of last week’s Nature, under the catchy title Less Is More. Subjects were given several opportunities to suggest changes to something, such as a Lego set-up, a geometric design, an essay or even a travel itinerary. The authors found: “Here we show that people systematically default to searching for additive transformations, and consequently overlook subtractive transformations.”
In the Lego picture here, for example, when asked how to strengthen the upper platform, most people wanted to add new columns, instead of simply removing the existing column. The researchers note: “The subtractive solution is more efficient, but you only notice it if you don’t jump to an additive conclusion.”
Giving cognitive nudges – like explicitly mentioning the option of deleting something – improved the likelihood that people would come up with subtractive options, but increasing cognitive load (through additional tasks) decreased it. Co-author Benjamin Converse said:
By the time you read this, Microsoft may have already struck a deal with the messaging service Discord. VentureBeatreported two weeks ago that Discord was in an “exclusive acquisition discussion” with an interested party, for a deal that could reach at least $10b. Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal each quickly revealed that the interested party was Microsoft (and also confirmed the likely price).
Let’s back up. If you are not a gamer, you may not know about Discord. It was launched in 2015, primarily as a community for gamers. Originally it focused on texting/chat, but has widened its capabilities to include audio and video. The Vergedescribed it: “Discord is a great mix of Slack messaging and Zoom video, combined together with a unique ability to just drop into audio calls freely.”
Zoom meets Slack meets Clubhouse.
As you might infer from the potential asking price, Discord has done quite well. It has over 140 million monthly users, and, despite having no advertising and offering a free service, generated $130 million in revenues last year (through its “enhanced Discord experience” subscription service Nitro). OK, it still isn’t profitable, but a December funding round gave it a $7b valuation.
Admit it: you’ve been following the story about the huge container ship stuck in the Suez Canal. It’s about the size of the Empire State building laid flat, and somehow ended up blocking one of the busiest waterways in the world.
As serious as this was for global shipping and all of us who depend on it, much hilarity ensued. Memes exploded, using this as a metaphor for almost everything, healthcare included. Once there started to be hope for getting the Ever Given free, people started new memes that it should be “put back.”
Well, I’m a sucker for a funny meme and a good metaphor too. Our healthcare system is that canal, and we’re the unfortunate ship. Only it doesn’t look like we’re getting unstuck anytime soon.
The Ever Given got stuck a week ago. It is one of the world’s largest container ships, but high winds, poor visibility (due to a dust storm), and, perhaps, human error caused things to go sidewise, literally. It got stuck on the banks. Over 300 other ships have been blocked as a result; alternative routes add several thousand miles to the trip, making it a tough choice between waiting/hoping and rerouting.
This week (for one week only) #THCB Gang was on Friday. Matthew Holt (@boltyboy) was joined by regulars medical historian Mike Magee (@drmikemagee), Fard Johnmar (@fardj), from digital health consultancy Enspektos, THCB regular writer Kim Bellard (@kimbbellard), and employer health expert Jennifer Benz (@jenbenz). Sadly Casey Quinlan was ill and couldn’t join last minute.
It was an extraordinary week, especially in terms of digital health investment. We talked a bit about that and a lot more about high deductible health plans, whether the filibuster will be busted, and what that might mean for Medicare for all. A wide ranging and big picture conversation!
The video is below but if you’d rather listen to the episode, the audio is preserved as a weekly podcast available on our iTunes & Spotify channels.
Nanoparticles are everywhere! By that I mean, of course, that there seems to be a lot of news about them lately, particularly in regard to health and healthcare. But, of course, literally they could be anywhere and everywhere, which helps account for their potential, and their potential danger.
Let’s start with one of the more startling developments: a team at the University of Miami’s College of Engineering, led by Professor Sakhrat Khizroev, believes it has figured out a way to use nanoparticles to “talk” to the brain without wires or implants. They use “a novel class of ultrafine units called magnetoelectric nanoparticles (MENPs)” to penetrate the blood-brain barrier.
“Once the MENPs are inside the brain and positioned next to neurons, we can stimulate them with an external magnetic field, and they in turn produce an electric field we can speak to, without having to use wires,” Professor Khizroev explained. A special magnetic helmet would communicate with the MENPs, in real-time.
Other efforts, such as Elon Musk’s Neuralink, have been looking at using implants to achieve the brain-computer interface, but Dr. Khizroev is skeptical of this kind of approach:
Other efforts have used external instruments like microelectrodes to try to solve the mysteries of the brain, but because of its complexity and difficulty in accessing, such methods can only go so far. There are 80 billion neurons in the human brain, so imagine how difficult it would be to attach 80 billion microelectrodes to access every single neuron. The only way to truly tap in is wirelessly—through nanotechnology.