President Obama called for more innovation in health, education, and technology during his State of the Union speech last night.  The day before, I listened to an innovator – an entrepreneur here in San Francisco – tell his experience with a health care innovation project.  He’s no longer working on that project, but instead is at the helm of a start-up adventure travel company. As he said, “It’s not as hard to sell adventure travel… the heck do you sell health well?”

Our health care system (being so broken) is certainly ripe for innovation. And boy, do we need it! We hear every day of thousands of Americans being denied health insurance (including me). Lifestyle diseases surrounded by poor diet, little physical activity, lack of adherence to medications, lack of access to good doctors, etc. are driving health care costs to the stratosphere. Forget about the monetary cost – we are unhealthy and unhappy.

So why is health so difficult to sell?

Part of what makes health a hard sell right now is that Americans are turned off by the health care system. In a major way! Such negative attitudes mean that perhaps the health care system (as it exists) is not the right entity to sell health. Another difficulty is that we are a sick nation. We do not value health, often until it’s gone, and even then, sometimes the worse a person feels, the less s/he wants to get better. Thirdly, we as patients/consumers do not understand health very well – it has become so confusing! Lastly, many of the folks innovating health care solutions leave out health behaviorists, health educators, and clinical health care providers who can share insights on they way people do health.

So the gap between the sellers and the buyers is widening.

We need a health renaissance in this country.

Part of that renaissance is happening with health technology. Brilliant designers, engineers, entrepreneurs, and business strategy minds are trying to innovate effective health care solutions. Technology enables fast and cost-effective delivery, sure; but in order for technology to impact a person’s health and happiness, it must meet the person where s/he is at. Meaning, technology must deliver to the user exactly what s/he needs in the way s/he he wants to receive. Engaging in health is a process, not an outcome. Health behavior change rarely works when we sell the outcome; how can we better at selling the process?
Selling the process of health behavior change requires experts who have expertise in health behavior science.  How else can health tech companies ensure they are designing solutions that will work?  Health tech solutions must effectively educate, increase self-efficacy, and provide social support.  Like Facebook, if health is socially enjoyable, people will use it. That’s one of the reasons Crossfit and triathlon (to name a few examples) have become so popular. These two fitness communities cultivate strong social ties and specific identities. Identities that participants pride themselves on. Can health tech create a similar experience?

Selling health also requires a kick-ass brand. Health practitioners do not know how to brand health, so design agencies must be better at understanding health. And health consumers must be better at demanding what they need. There must be an ongoing dialogue between patients, providers, designers, and innovators. At the forefront of this concept is The Future Well.

So the renaissance IS happening 🙂

Other real-life examples include:

BJ Fogg
Patients like Me
Health 2.0

Health  behaviorists and educators are in a unique position to facilitate the dialogue necessary to continue the renaissance. I am attending the Health 2.0 Developer Challenge this weekend to gain a better understanding of the renaissance, because I want to share my skills and expertise with people leading it!

One comment

  1. Steph brings up a super important point about how innovation has to drive health care reform. These are great ideas to put into practice in everyday life as all of us work to stay healthier and think about how our behaviors (and changes in behavior) can come together to support that.Morris

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s