Healthcare and the Trap of Personalization

Probably the biggest-ever gain in quality of life for humans is related to improvements in productivity. And improvements in productivity have always been a function of tools and automation.

We have now more automation and better tools than ever before.

Like it or not, automation makes our lifestyle possible. Among others, it makes crazy-complex stuff scalable and therefore affordable.

Sure, over-automation can be a problem. There is a lot of value in personalization – which is why artisanal/ bespoke things are a premium segment on many markets from clothes to beer to wedding planing.

The Sweet Spot

The sweet-spot is enough automation to make things scale, with a dash of customization to keep things personal.

And because this sweet spot can be pretty personal, I like to think of it not as a static, fixed point, but a slider that can be adjusted based on requirements:

As we slide to our sweet spot, we are able to optimize for price, speed, productivity or whatever works in that particular case.

Except for a bunch of outliers, most things have their sweet spot somewhere where there is just enough customization to keep things relevant and enough automation to keep them available, predictable and affordable.

Too Much Personalization

Yet, at the same time areas that are critical to the quality of our life refuse to automate or scale, although we would greatly benefit if they would.

One such area is healthcare. The typical healthcare experience is a maddening exercise in unnecessary “customization”. The phone booking. The waiting rooms. The forms filled while waiting. The need to re-submit the same information again and again. The handwritten referrals/ prescriptions. The whole thing repeating at the lab and then again at the follow-up visit. The black box in the back office.

Healthcare an exercise in creating inefficiencies and waste and then outsourcing them to patients (and middlemen) to the point that the healthcare experience feels basically like expensive admin work for everyone involved.

Why have we failed to automate even the most basic elements of this experience? Even as we have over-automated every other aspect of our lives?

One of the arguments that I am hearing is that health (and education) are so important that they need to stay custom as the patient/ provider relationship cannot be forced into a cookie-cutter approach.

Basically, for the proverbial insult added to injury, we are told this is in fact a feature not a bug, because healthcare is important and special and would only be sullied by automation.

I call bullshit on that.

In fact automating everything before and after the doctor’s visit is the best way to reinforce the personal provider/ patient time argument, as that allows more time and resources to go towards that moment, rather than towards admin.

The provider/ patient relationship will greatly benefit from automation through things like:

  1. AI-assisted devices and instruments that can help identify and uncover patterns in patient data that are not visible to even the trained naked eye.
  2. Additional data points (fitness biomarkers etc) that get routinely collected by people through wearable or even through smartphones;
  3. Historical data processing, continuous data analysis and cross-referencing data that has been siloed or simply unavailable until now;
  4. A better understanding of behavioral data and its impact on health;
  5. A better understanding of correlations between preventative measures and traditional healthcare.

And before we even get these. It really is time to automate the things that are already successfully automated in other industries: records. Bookings. Follow-ups. This should be a pretty easy way to reduce cost and dramatically increase access to healthcare.

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