Having a Baby Changes Everything -- Even More Than You Think

>> Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Having a baby totally changes your life -- trust me, I know -- mine changed drastically a little over 16 years ago. Yikes!

William Martino here at the agency just recently had a baby, one in a string of new births in our family here at Saatchi Wellness. The baby not only changed his life, but also changed his outlook on our healthcare system, something that we deal with personally and professionally every day of our life.

Read here his mind-blogging account of what is supposed to be the happiest day of your life. There must be a better way?!

Hope this finds you well -- Jim.


Despite working in the healthcare space and all the attention our industry receives on a daily basis, it's very easy to keep yourself at arms length from some of the issues and concerns we debate regularly. It's only when you are thrust into the system that these issues are a lot closer to home than expected.

About a month ago, when my wife and I happily welcomed a new daughter into our lives, I found myself in the middle of industry change—where traditional, paper-based systems were slowly being challenged by modern, digital ones. We gave birth in a hospital in New York City, and were surrounded by technology at every turn both leading up to the birth and throughout the delivery (everything from 3D ultrasounds and fetal heart monitors to "LoJack" tags that are worn by newborns so they don't leave the safety of the recovery floor). But despite the existence of all that technology, I couldn't get past how it was juxtaposed so starkly against mounds of paper and antiquated systems.

The inefficiencies of these legacy systems were almost mind numbing. A few examples:
  • Filling out our new patient forms ahead of time, only to have to do it all over again because our info was never put "in the system" by hospital administration
  • Having to find somewhere I could download and print a consent form (which we completed and gave to our doctor a week prior) that was mysteriously missing from our chart (Funny aside: I found a Staples Print & Copy Center, which was closed, and ended up begging the manager to let me in. Bless his heart, he did and didn't charge me to use the computer or printer. Having a wife in labor really is the perfect excuse! Talk about a brand leaving you with a positive experience...)
  • And my favorite, receiving my daughter's "Health Record"—a yellow piece of paper the state uses to track things like immunizations and screenings—and being told by the nurse, "Don't lose this—you have to bring it to EVERY doctor appointment. They won't let her in school without it." Now, I don't know about you, but the thought of carrying around, and not accidentally misplacing or spilling coffee on, a single piece of paper for the next 18 years doesn't seem like the most reliable way to track someone's medical history
I kept thinking to myself, "there has to be a better way." Why couldn't I register with the hospital online? Why isn't there a central database that tracks things like my daughter's immunizations so I don't have to worry about losing a stupid piece of paper?

Of course, there IS a better way. Over the past several years, companies like Google, Microsoft, Web MD, and Revolution Health (among others) have launched a variety of Personal Health Records (PHR's) and other web-based systems to help patients take control of their health data, share it with their healthcare team, and ultimately make informed decisions about what it all means. The days of calling your doctor to retrieve your chart are slowly coming to an end.

These solutions, however, are not without their own challenges and controversies, the biggest of which being patient privacy. There is nothing more intimate than one's own health and the thought of personalized health information being used against you by employers, insurance companies, or opportunistic marketers is a scary one. As I fantasized about how cool it would be to manage something like the above mentioned Health Record digitally (yes, this is the kind of thing a digital strategist fantasizes about)—where I could grant access to various physicians to update it, automatically track my daughter's height & weight against growth curves, get contextual help about what the data means, etc—I couldn't help but think about her privacy and whether I would really be comfortable with that data sitting out "in the cloud."

A recent article in Wired opened my mind to the other side of this debate—all the benefits that we can reap by responsibly collecting, sharing, and analyzing this data. Rather than protect this information, what if we were able to analyze it to identify patterns and trends that can help shape our future in ways we never imagined? Sites like PatientsLikeMe, for example, give us a glimpse of what data driven health might look like: drug companies can study real-world results, in addition to clinical trial data, to improve therapies; patients can compare experiences and connect with other patients to build powerful new support systems that are based on more than just anecdotal feelings; and, as the Wired article suggests, physicians would know what other practitioners are prescribing and see the effectiveness of those decisions, ultimately improving patient care.

This debate continues, but we can look to other industries for a glimpse of how it may end. There was a day when the thought of managing our finances electronically was just as frightening (heck, I know a few luddites that still don't trust it), but now it's commonplace and I couldn't imagine my life without it. Any concerns about identity theft and privacy, while still real, are overshadowed by the speed, convenience, and efficiencies of a paperless world. But it was only when the various financial institutions got on board and we reached critical mass in terms of access that the scales tipped and adoption spread.

Whether from the top (by technology companies), from the bottom (empowered patients), or simply because of time (younger generations who are much more comfortable sharing their life data), pressures are being applied to the healthcare system—much like they were applied to the financial system—and the day is coming where a digitized system will be the only system. Physician offices, health insurance companies, hospitals, and pharmacies will either change the way they do business or they won't do business at all.

Until then, I'll have to find a safe place to keep that Health Record.

- William Martino, Digital Strategist at Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness


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