Innovation of the Mind

In his recent New Yorker article, Atul Gawande talks about the time it takes for innovations to spread. From the title of the article, one can easily deduct the gist without reading it: the spread of innovations takes longer than it probably should, with this temporal gap directly affecting the health, safety and general well-being of those without access to the innovation.

Innovation isn’t new to healthcare, and it’s true that innovative practice methods, technologies, etc., are needed to facilitate much needed change within an all-important institution once centered on “concrete” principles of religion and superstition. But upon thinking of what innovation can bring to an expanding, fractured landscape like healthcare’s, it becomes clear that, paradoxically, meaningful innovation in healthcare can only be realized through the ends that innovative technology and process redesign enable–information and awareness of our surroundings.

Innovations in technology or processes won’t achieve their purpose unless healthcare–essentially, people–is willing to accept those innovations and adopt them in practice. But what is “acceptance” and how can we measure it? Here’s my take: It’s fair to assume that acceptance isn’t generated without some new appreciation. After all, one doesn’t fully “accept” something–a way of life, a truth…something–until that person develops a newfound appreciation for it, good or bad. Innovation needs acceptance before it can innovate. But is there a way we can develop acceptance before creating innovation? I think there is.

I’d like to argue that, at the most essential level, the innovation our healthcare system needs won’t come from cutting-edge technology or new delivery processes. In my years of experience I’ve never seen a band-aid heal an underlying health issue, only mitigate an adverse affect. Technology and processes are like band-aids, in that meaningful changes can only come from within the people who use them; the way those people approach their own health, as well as the healthcare system as a whole. Health is an inconstant variable in one’s existence. While people are focused on controlling changes happening around them, few appreciate the changes going on inside of them, by the minute, everyday of their lives. Essentially, the innovation that will fix our healthcare system is an innovation of the mind; the way we think, and whether we can accept ourselves as flawed, ever-changing collections of matter prone to disintegrate over time.

I look at this last point as an opportunity; an opportunity to make the best out of a dire, but inevitable outcome. Some see it differently. Others choose not to think about it at all. Nevertheless, acceptance of this basic fact of life is a necessary precursor that will drive the innovation that our healthcare system needs.

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