I was doom scrolling Twitter when this tweet stopped my thumb in its tracks.
This one story encapsulates the struggle of healthcare better than I ever could.
This is why healthcare is so hard.
During undergrad, my focus (and the focus of many others) was engaging and empowering patients. We were looking for the key to unlock patient participation in healthcare. We read papers, worked in labs, and spent time in clinics with real patients, but couldn’t find it.
At first we thought if we educated patients and made them more health literate they would engage. Then we thought if we taught them to be advocates for their own health they would engage. But more often than not we found that we were much more invested in their health than they were.
So we turned to incentives in hopes of getting them to do something. And it was not only in school where I saw incentives used. I’ve worked in 3 jobs where we tried deploying incentives to engage patients. And as a patient I’ve even seen incentives used on me.
We tried money, free rides, paying for groceries, paying for medical supplies and covering the cost of childcare. None of these moved the needle. Sure, we saw upticks in engagement with each attempt but then things would return to a baseline.
Which brings me back to the tweet. Real life health consequences couldn’t get the patient invested in their health. But $10 did. It’s so random!
But that’s because healthcare is about human beings. Human beings are difficult to understand, and even more challenging to predict.
I used to get so frustrated when our well thought out incentive plans only got a few to act. Instead I should have celebrated. That was a few more lives made better.
If I’ve learned anything so far in my career, it is that it is going to take all of us and everything we have to make healthcare better. It may take $10 for some, it may take Lyft rides for others, it may take a nurse showing up at their door step for others. And for some it may take technology that we haven’t even yet imagined.
But that’s all right, instead of getting frustrated, it should be an incentive for us. To put our heads down and keep pushing. To solve the hard problems. We haven’t found the perfect solution yet but it’s out there somewhere.