In the 21st Century Medicine Will Be Different, and This Time It’s Personal

A couple of years ago, I received this Tweet: Can Smartphones Become The New Stethoscopes? Expert Insights Into The Future Of #mHealth

Since then, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen healthcare marketing people use the stethoscope as visual shorthand. Along with handsome people in medical uniforms, art directors clearly believe that a picture of a stethoscope means, “We’re really focused on this market and understand what clinicians need.” For healthcare IT, the shorthand is subtly different, it’s a stethoscope neatly coiled up on a computer keyboard.

It’s funny how these communications clichés build up. I used to work for an educational software company, and pretty much every new agency pitch started by recommending “top of the class” as a tag line, or the suggesting we make our brochures look like school exercise books. I’m pleased to say, we never fell for the easy option.

So why has the stethoscope become a (genuine) icon of health and care? Looking back to recent visits to my doctor, I can’t recall a stethoscope being used during the consultation, though there’s usually one lying around and it’s often curled up on a keyboard. So, I asked someone who knows about these things, Dr. Robert Wah, DXC’s Chief Medical Officer, for a 21st Century medic’s opinion.

stethoscope on laptop

This was Dr. Wah’s response, “It is a tool. It was groundbreaking when it was introduced and has stood the test of time. It is not the “ultimate” tool but it represents the hands-on diagnostic process.” He went on to say, “All technology should be viewed as additional tools for doctors to take better care of their patients and not just tech for tech’s sake.”

That got me thinking. First of all, no matter how groundbreaking we think our new technology tools are, they are only tools. They fit into a long history of tools designed to improve the practice of medicine and, in a nicely Darwinian turn, only the fittest will survive. Will the smartphone be one of those tools that stand the test of time? Well, I’d confidently predict that some kind of personally-owned health and well-being management device will certainly become ubiquitous. And since I first saw that Tweet, we’ve seen substantial progress in opening up health records through mobiles apps.

The second thought was a bit more philosophical. The stethoscope represents a culture based on expert intervention; it’s a specialist’s tool, designed to be wielded by an expert whose role it is to solve a difficult problem. The smartphone reflects a culture of personal involvement and engagement; it’s a personal tool, in this case evolving to help us engage directly with our personal health every hour of every day. This is nothing less than a democratization of healthcare, and it’s a going to be a fundamental part of how we all manage our health and wellness in the future. The smartphone represents this simple fact: In the 21st century medicine will be different, and this time it’s personal.

The article the Tweet links to is still there, and read isn’t really about smartphones and stethoscopes at all. No surprise – that headline is sub-editors’ shorthand.

By Phil Hemmings, Market Requirements and Strategy, DXC


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