From childhood most of us remember the sage parental advice on how to deal with bullies–“sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me”. Of course, we all know that words do hurt, maybe not physically, but they certainly take a toll on our psyche. These days in planning meetings at my own company, in articles I read on the web and at various tech industry conferences, I come across words and language that I know feel hurtful, or are at least disrespectful, to the health industry and the people who work there. I hear cavalier talk about the need to disrupt the healthcare industry. Some thought leaders even say we will creatively destruct the healthcare industry. Consumers armed with technology will rise up, they say, and disrupt everything about the current state of healthcare.
Now imagine for a minute that you are a hospital executive, a doctor, a nurse or other clinician and you hear people who work outside your industry talking about disrupting or destructing it. Imagine being told that consumers, patients, and tech companies will rise up and destroy your business. There you are doing the best you can to make it through each day keeping your hospital or practice economically sound, dealing with the barrage of patients at your door, staying one step ahead of ever-increasing rules, regulations and rising costs, while those who’ve never worked a day in your world tell you they are going to disrupt and/or destroy it. Even if there is a need to disrupt healthcare (and even many who work in the health industry might agree), nobody appreciates being told by some outsider that they know your business better than you do.
I don’t imagine my colleagues who work at Microsoft (or Google, or Apple, or Amazon) would appreciate being told by a hospital administrator or a doctor that they knew better how to run a tech company, or what ails the tech industry. Nor do I think that most patients and consumers can really appreciate the amazing complexity of our healthcare system or the unbelievable pressures under which it operates these days.
So, instead of casting stones maybe we should all try to work together. Can we not find a common ground—better health, lower costs, more efficient, consumer-centric models of prevention and care? Can we not mutually work on solving the current ails of our healthcare system? Can we not show mutual respect and have the humility to say that perhaps the professionals who work in healthcare know more than we do, or at least know a lot of things about their industry that we must know too if any of us hopes to disrupt what’s bad without destroying what’s good about healthcare?
So the next time you hear someone talk about disrupting or destructing healthcare, I hope you’ll have the common sense to remind them that perhaps they could choose better words, and most certainly they should approach the subject with a far greater sense of humility about that which they do not really know or understand.
This post originally ran here on 14 March.
Bill Crounse, MD Senior Director, Worldwide Health Microsoft