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Elective Madness

Written by Catherine Schuster Bruce · Tuesday 19th April 2016

I hear the familiar sound of surprise in their voice:

‘Really -you can go anywhere in the world and you came to Boston?’

Yes. I am back at the social hub of any office, the coffee machine.

This time, it is the beginning of my eight-week elective, the light that shines at the end of the medical school tunnel. The eight-week period to do what you want, where you want to, anywhere in the world. The eight-week period where social media becomes inundated by the ‘#madness’ that ensues…

So here I am, the visiting English girl, standing at the coffee machine of Partners Connected Health with wet feet from the freak April snowstorms, in a little blue dress and pumps, and the only jumper that I packed in my overweight suitcase…

‘Hashtag madness.’

I need to explain.

Partners Connected Health is an American organisation that aims to improve healthcare delivery through better connecting patients with health professionals using technology, whether this be health apps or medical devices. It is a company that is in demand and rapidly growing as the American healthcare system shifts from ‘volume-based’ to ‘value-based’ care. The latter is a model that incentivises healthcare delivery that is 'efficient'; high quality but low cost.

Closer to home, the direction of the NHS, set out by head of NHS England Simon Stevens in the 'Five Year Forward View', is to exploit ‘the IT revolution’ and maximise the use of technology to move towards more personalised care that empowers individuals to self-manage their conditions.

The potential impact of technology in healthcare is hard to deny.

Elizabeth Murray, Professor of eHealth and Primary Care in an editorial published in BJMP uses smartphone apps as an example of health technology and concludes that ‘eHealth […] is not an optional extra but an essential part of a cost effective health service’.* Health apps have also been recommended by the likes of The Economist.

BUT… do we know whether, health apps (or any health tech intervention for that matter), will actually work to improve patient experience and outcomes? It is of note that reporters in The Economist gauge an app's success according to number of users.

Granted, popularity is important... However, popularity does not necessarily entail that an app is an effective means of managing the healthcare of our population.

Furthermore, if you are a patient taking time and effort to track steps or monitor blood glucose using an app, surely you want to know that it will actually make a difference to your health?!

So, how do you develop an app? How do you make sure it is safe, works and improves outcomes? What problems do you face as an app developer? I am here to find out.

Edward De Bono once said: ‘to be successful you have to be lucky, or a little mad, or very talented, or find yourself in a rapid growth field’. [1] Lucky, mad, in an office of academia, immersed in health technology…#ElectiveMadness. 

My colleague smiles. ‘Welcome Aboard’.

*BJMP: British Journal of Medical Practitioners

[1] quote Edward de Bono: Nobel Prize winner for Economics in 2005, Edward de Bono is regarded by many as the leading authority in the field of creative thinking, innovation and the direct teaching of thinking as a skill.