When we talk about healthcare, rather than focus on cost and disease, we need to target prevention. I don’t think it’s a surprise to anyone here when I say to you that a healthy body is directly correlated to healthy behaviors which is strongly influenced by the communities we connect with.
The quality of our connections has tremendous impact on our physical and mental health, and like it our not, technology has changed the way we relate to one another. There are approximately 7 billion users on the internet now. In this moment, more than half of you, through the next 5-15 minutes of this talk, will notice yourself drifting in and out. You will find yourself mindlessly reaching for your mobile device to check your email or your Facebook feed.
With a click, we escape disconnection and isolation and connect with like-minded individuals and online communities on any subject we want. The source of power is the promise of instant gratification and connectivity. There are downsides to this, and we can lament about the evils of the internet, but it’s just a tool. Like any tool, it can be used for constructive or destructive means. A useful questions ask ourselves as leaders and advocates of affordable healthcare is how can we target and mine online communities for for positive change?
The current healthcare system is difficult to sustain, it can’t provide services because of limited funding and other complications. Majority of my practice consists of out-of-pocket paying clients, and not by choice. I get hundreds of inquiries looking for in-network providers and most of the insurance plans limit sessions to 12-20 visits.
Mental health continues to be a huge untapped market burdened with limitations and stigma:
-An estimated 61.5 million Americans aged 18 and older experience some form of mental illness in a given year (NIMH)
-Around 9.2 million adults have co-occuring mental health and addiction disorders (Center for Behavioral Health statistics and Quality 2012)
-About 50% of adolescents aged 13-18 have experienced at least one mental disorder in their lifetime (Merikangas et al, 2010)
The internet has already found solutions to the problem in mental health. Online communities for mental health care already exist. For example: Talkspace, 7 cups of tea, my company, everbliss to name a few. These platforms are all geared toward motivating people to talk about their problems in a safe digital space.
These online mental health Communities have replaced clergy, family and community centers. The space we share & join others going through similar issues is now virtual. There are many reason why people, especially young people are flocking to online communities. Millennials are primed from childhood and habituated into relating online from the start. Habit is a powerful behavioral phenomena. Additionally, virtual platforms target the main three factors of motivation: Autonomy, mastery and social support.
Individuals become healthier when they are given the choices and provided opportunities to experience success. They are more likely to engage in successful behaviors when they are socially acknowledged and supported by their peers. Basically, we need other people in order to live well. These online communities have tapped into a gold mine by addressing the three tenets of motivation.
Outside of the virtual world, my physical practice has also evolved due to the influence and innovations in technology. I work more over the internet, using video conferencing and email. My associates and I text and conduct video meetings. In today’s fast -paced world, we rarely need to make physical contact to run a business.
This poses new challenges for negotiating boundaries around social media with my clients: Should I accept the Linked in request? What about a snapchat? How do I make these boundaries therapeutic? Should I have email office hours? Am I providing a disservice to this client by seeing her on video sessions instead of in person? These are common dilemmas for healthcare providers using technology. There are also real limitations - one main issue being that technology is ever evolving and moving so fast, it’s hard for our working models to keep up.
Ever since email arrived into our lives, it’s has forever changed our perspective on how we manage our most valued resource- Time. We don’t wait for anything anymore. We have outsourced everything. Technology tells us when it’s our friends birthday, where they're going on vacation, what they are reading, who is available to date, how much we are sleeping and how many steps we are taking.
The real questions is — how are these tools helping society become healthier? are these solutions helping us use healthcare more effectively? In my opinion, there's a potential for us to drown in pool of information overflow. Because of the comfortable solutions provided by innovation, we’ve become passive and disempowered in our ability to influence it. What would happen if we were to wake up and use these tools to become actively engaged with others? At the end of the day, how does counting your steps actually help you become a healthier person?
What continues to be missing in mainstream healthcare now starting to benefit from tech is personalization and reliability. I grew up in a southern town with immigrant parents who did not speak english very well. They had a huge distrust for what they saw as the “white system” so they just didn’t go to doctors appointments. Thank goodness we didn’t have big medical issues, but it would’ve helped to get vaccines, some antibiotics, and regular check ups. Those were the painful days before internet reviews, online forums and google translation. Now, my parents are always on their iPads. It has replaced me as their new translator for all their medical appointments and source of entertainment and connection. I can't get them away from it.
The marriage between healthcare and technology is the meeting point for the birth of opportunity. Technology is not a silver bullet but it’s a big step in the right direction. The exciting part is that it really does solve few of the biggest problems in healthcare. To summarize, Here are 3 main benefits:
Cost: With modern day tech, we can provide services in a safe and secure way with minimal overhead, so practitioners can provide reasonable services at reasonable fees.
Access: Mental and physical care is difficult for people who live remotely or don't have access to transportation or their job simply doesn’t allow them to take the time off.
Accountability: Less cancellations due to transportation, weather and sickness. Better quality of service that can be tracked by data for measurable outcomes and success rates.
We are at a very uncertain time in our healthcare system. Our minds and bodies, our relationships and the community we connect with are the most powerful source of change. Each of us have, in our hands, the tool to build a healthier and brighter future.