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6 Ways To Fix Health Care

If we really want to reform our medical system, it’s going to take a drastic rethinking of when, why, and how we care for people.

6 Ways To Fix Health Care
[Image: Abstract via Shutterstock]

People living longer. Widespread lifestyle disease like diabetes. Patients surviving cancer, strokes and heart attacks more frequently. It’s big trends like these that are taxing health care systems as never before, and calling into question traditional approaches. In the future, we may need different models if we’re going to keep everyone healthy without breaking the bank.

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A new report from the Innovation Unit, a U.K. nonprofit that explores the future of public services, compiles innovative practices, technologies, and ideas from around the world. We picked our six favorites.

Redefine Health

Health care is still mostly about fixing people when they go wrong, rather than keeping them healthy. The report calls for a conceptual shift to “wider, and more subjective, well-being goals.” “Our services need to be better [at] discovering what matters to each person and finding the right support to help them on their way,” it says. That means moving the health system closer to people’s lives, and relying on not just on hospitals and doctors but a range of community actors as well.

Enable Self-Management

Apps, sensors, and wristbands make monitoring and managing health easier. For example, Ginger.io analyzes smartphone data, providing an early warning system for depression. Cellnovo is an app and wearable pump that tracks glucose levels and dispenses insulin. “This isn’t just about shifting responsibility onto the patient, but about recognizing that patients themselves are a valuable resource,” the report says.

Group Appointments

The time pressure of one-on-one appointments means patients don’t always take in what doctors tell them. Group appointments can reinforce messages, open up problem-solving, and “build social networks between patients around common issues, particularly those which socially isolate them,” the report says. “Patients ‘own’ the space, altering the power dynamic of traditional consultation models and making appointments more efficient for the clinician.”

More Than Medicine

The report recommends widening interventions beyond drugs and clinical treatments, and taking account of the economic and social causes of ill-health. Group activities like art classes and knitting groups, and activities like walking, fishing, and gardening, can improve cardiovascular fitness and reduce depression, it says. Health Leads USA prescribes food, housing, and energy support from clinics around the country. A pill alone isn’t much good to someone who’s hungry or in unsafe accommodation.

Encourage Peer Support

The report suggests ways for people to help each other with health. For example, Centering Pregnancy, in Boston, brings together groups of women to learn from each other ahead of childbirth. Patient hotels, a concept developed in Sweden, provide a third-place where family and friends can support recuperating patients. Tyze is a social network tool that help groups manage caring responsibilities.

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Incentivize Healthy Behavior

Though controversial, incentives have been shown to work. The report points to programs like Beat the Street in the U.K., a competition that encourages kids to walk to school, and Oportunidades, in Mexico, which offers “conditional cash transfers” to families that improve kids’ health. Sometimes people need extra motivation to make the right choices, the report says.

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About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.

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