When Jobs met Wozniak: partnerships as the catalyst for healthcare 3.0

We all know the story. It was 1976, and Steve Wozniak was dabbling in computer design in his garage.

He created a new machine that he shared with his friend and co-worker Steve Jobs. Wozniak wanted to build something for himself – a computer that he could use for work and also just for fun. Jobs, on the other hand, saw a technology that could change the way people lived and worked. Unlike the massive mainframes of the day, Wozniak's computer was something that Jobs knew could and should be made available to everyone.

The Jobs and Wozniak partnership was the catalyst that created the company, Apple Inc., and that computer eventually became the Apple II, the first computer with color graphics. This was just the beginning. Apple re-invented personal technology and our personal lives with the iPod, the iPad and the iPhone. Today everyone from the MIT professor to the toddler sitting next to you on the plane is browsing music, photos and video with a tap on a screen. The combination of Steve Wozniak's technical genius with Steve Job's future vision literally changed the world and made it better, easier and more equitable.

Partnerships that bring together unique and complementary strengths like those of Jobs and Wozniak will be the catalyst that moves healthcare innovation from incremental improvements to breakthrough innovation, simplifying healthcare access, delivery, payment and efficacy in ways we have only imagined in science fiction.

With an aging population and healthcare costs as a percentage of the gross domestic product (GDP) skyrocketing (nearly 18 percent of U.S. GDP), there is consensus that something must change. Although investment dollars continue to flow into healthcare information technology (IT) companies and startups alike, we have yet to fully harness the power of digital tools and IT to simplify healthcare and make it better. Technology has dramatically changed every other aspect of our lives, so why is it so hard to bring this innovation to healthcare? The devil is in the details it seems.

The details in healthcare matter. Our lives depend on the key facts of an existing medical condition, an allergy or a dosage of medication. In addition, we want these details—all deeply personal information—to be protected and secured. Add to this the fact that the majority of healthcare in the U.S. today is paid for by Medicare and Medicaid, both part of the public trust, and you have a highly regulated environment. This is healthcare today. Those of us working in the industry are experts in the domain and regulation of healthcare, but perhaps our expertise in the details keeps us from seeing or harnessing the potential of new technologies all around us, such as massive computing scale, personalization, data security, cloud services and more. How can we apply these technologies to the vast amounts of digital data residing in EHRs to gain detailed and even personalized insights into our health and potential treatments?

Investors in Silicon Valley in California or Silicon Slopes in Utah see healthcare as one of the last remaining industries to be digitized, automated and distilled into something as simple as an app on our phone. Funding for digital healthcare startups exceeded $750 million in the first quarter alone of 2016. But the challenges for those outside of the healthcare domain have been bigger than money. The challenges have come from not fully appreciating what it takes to successfully operate in the healthcare domain – those pesky details. Companies like Theranos with its finger prick blood test, 23andMe and its genetic testing, and Zenefits' online business administration services emerged from Silicon Valley with a "break glass" bravado, casually tossing aside the need for healthcare domain or regulatory expertise. The results have been nearly catastrophic. Theranos has been cited by the FDA and CMS. 23andMe was ordered to stop interpreting genetic code by the FDA and Zenefits, which was all about compliance, found itself out of compliance. And as a result, we have not seen iPhone-like breakthroughs....yet.

The answer is in the middle. Healthcare companies and providers need to seek and find the perfect Jobs/Wozniak partnership where each side brings unique and complementary strengths to the solution. Those of us in healthcare IT have been too slow to marry our domain expertise with the vast technical knowledge that exists outside of healthcare. Specialists in data science, computing, consumer trends, ecommerce, and other experts see the world differently. They have a vision of simplicity and an understanding of natural behavior that is key. These experts also have experience in massive computing scale and personalization that is commonplace in a world linked by social networks and consumer websites, but not commonplace in healthcare IT. Imagine how the world might look different if Amazon or Netflix or Uber were to partner with a trusted healthcare IT developer to tackle the challenges of home health delivery or patient education or access to the most efficient care settings. The thought may make you uncomfortable, but there could be magic in such an approach. Magic that leverages world-scale data science, computing, cloud, and security to simplify healthcare, make it easier, more affordable, and more equitable.

Jobs had Wozniak. Who will healthcare find to partner with for breakthrough innovation?



JaeLynn Williams is president of 3M Health Information Systems, a business of 3M Company. She leads more than 1,300 employees in developing innovative health information technology products for hospitals and health systems, commercial payers, and federal and state health agencies. Headquartered in Salt Lake City, the 3M division develops classification and payment systems used in the United States and in more than 20 countries around the world to improve healthcare quality and lower costs. More than 30 U.S. states have adopted 3M classification systems to evaluate hospital and physician quality and/or to tie hospital payment to quality outcomes.


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