What’s your physician digital health innovator type?

Where are all the physician digital health innovators?

This is a question I hear all the time from people working in, researching and observing the fast-moving health technology arena.

The general thinking is that physicians are not involved enough in digital health — and it shows.  Over the past year, I’ve been making it a point to talk with people from around the world, including doctors, about their perceptions of digital health.

Physicians regularly complain to me that many of the new health applications and technologies they encounter provide little clinical value, do nothing to improve patient care, collect and deliver irrelevant data and are generally useless.

They tell me that if more physicians — especially those who see patients — were involved in the health tech development and design process we’d all be in a better place.

Although more physician involvement in digital health is absolutely required, things are not as bad as they seem on the surface.  I’ve had the pleasure of connecting (and sometimes collaborating) with many physician digital health innovators over the past ten years or so (I call them digital health mavens).

To celebrate their accomplishments I’ve decided to loosely classify the types of physician innovators I’ve come across (and studied) into four types.  Warning: This is classification system is entirely unscientific, but I think it will be helpful as you think about the work of your fellow physicians in digital health — and your own.

Four types of physician digital health Innovators

As you read the descriptions below, ask yourself whether you self-identify with one or more of these innovator types.

The practical practitioner (PP)

These physicians often start their digital health innovation journey by experimenting in their own practice.  Their goal is to see which technologies are most beneficial to patients, deliver useful outputs and more.  They are highly practical in their approach and quickly reject tools that offer little personal or medical value.

PP Example:  Dr. David Samuels, a solo practice anesthesiologist, blogged about his early experiences with the AliveCor EKG and how he used it to diagnose Atrial Fibrillation in his friend’s son in 2013.  He continues to work on finding practical uses for digital health tools today.

The digital connector (DC)

In digital health, as well as elsewhere in medicine, innovation is almost impossible to achieve without partners, fans, collaborators and others.  Relationships rule and connectors are invaluable.  Physicians who are digital connectors do the hard work of highlighting new ideas, fostering conversation and encouraging people to debate, discuss, collaborate and more.

DC Example:  I’ve watched Dr. Kevin Pho’s efforts to connect physicians around the world digitally via this blog for nearly a decade.  He’s helped to shape the international dialogue about health and wellness.  And, as outlined in a podcast I recorded with him recently, he’s also worked hard to ensure the physician voice is not absent in the ongoing conversation about technology’s role in medicine.

The systems shaper (SS)

These physicians are all about changing health and medicine by transforming the way physicians are educated and much more.  Their main focus is on changing medicine at the systems level and empowering dedicated physician innovators to bring change back to their communities.

SS Example:  There are many SS type physician digital health innovators I’ve had the pleasure of meeting.  One that comes immediately to mind is Dr. Daniel Kraft.  His Exponential Medicine conference has unleashed physician-led innovation globally and is helping to re-shape the future of medicine.

The courageous corraller (CC)

Innovation requires the hard work of people who are willing to clear the path, open themselves up to criticism and describe the future so that others can go there.  This is the role of physicians I call courageous corrallers.  They explore and describe the big picture ideas and trends that are vital to health and medicine.

CC Examples:  There are two CC type physician innovators that you may be familiar with:  Drs. Eric Topol and Bertalan Mesko.  Both have written books, The Creative Destruction of Medicine and The Guide to the Future of Medicine, that are sparking imaginations and shaping the global conversation about medicine’s technological future.

What’s your type?  Leave a comment and let me know.

Fard Johnmar is a digital health futurist and co-author of ePatient 2015: 15 Surprising Trends Changing Health Care. He is also founder, the Digital Health Maven Project

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