What Health IT Can Learn From Car Dashboards

A past HITMC Twitter chat addressed the question, “What can healthcare marketing learn from other industries?” Here’s an example that was too long to fit into 140 characters, but which I think is highly relevant to our community.

The Car Dashboard Analogy

Every time I get into a car I see how another industry was able to figure out what to do with mountains of data. No matter what vehicle I drive, I know I can expect to see a few of the same measurements on or near the dashboard:

  • My speed
  • Engine performance (RPMs)
  • Engine temperature
  • Mileage
  • Gas level

In most vehicles made in recent years I have also come to expect a few additional useful pieces of data at a glance such as outside temperature and miles before I run out of gas (the latter of which has been helpful to me on more than one occasion). But let’s stick with the original list of these 5 data points (speed, RPMs, temperature, mileage, gas), of which we all likely agree have been considered standard for some time.

Let’s take note of a few characteristics of how these data points are implemented in dashboards:

  1. First, the data is standardized across vehicle makes, models and trims. I can buy a 2016 Ford Mustang in 10 different colors (my fave is probably competition orange), but each one still has a speedometer and gas gauge.
  2. Second, the data is easy to consume. I can find it within a few milliseconds while keeping my eyes on the road.
  3. Third, the data that is most useful to me (the driver) is displayed, not every single data point that might be of interest to anyone. (A mechanic might be interested in the torque-to-weight ratio but it’s useless to me as the driver.)
  4. Fourth, while some vehicles include additional data, it doesn’t get in the way of or replace the standard data points.

All of this happens in a way in which we take it for granted when we get behind the wheel. Which leads me to conclude that health care can learn a lot from auto manufacturers about digging through data and devising industry standards for how users want to see it.

How Do Vehicle Dashboards Relate to Health Care?

Over the years, auto manufacturers have stared down the same question that now haunts health care: “What do we do with all of this data?!” Patients are demanding more of it, providers often can’t accommodate it, and health IT companies have different definitions of it. But surely if the highly competitive car industry can standardize certain parts of their data display, so can we.

Car manufacturers have learned that, no matter the brand of components under the hood or the type of driver behind the wheel, they still need to display certain information in a certain place; otherwise drivers can’t drive as well or simply won’t buy the vehicle.

I can’t tell you what that dashboard ought to look like for health IT systems and medical devices, but I am advocating that our industry collaborates better to work towards one. Creating a dashboard requires participation from three groups of stakeholders: patients, providers and health IT companies. Members of each group who accept the responsibility to do something with that data will come out the winners and indeed are already becoming so.

Let’s take a look at each of the three groups and what is needed to move forward:

1. Patients

Patients (i.e. all of us), you can contribute to the process by maintaining your voices but also maintaining your tempers. Providers and health IT organizations are well aware of what you are demanding from them. They are aware that you are not satisfied with your user experience in many aspects of your care. They share your frustration. They are actively listening to you and working on solutions. So don’t stop providing feedback, because it is driving innovation.

But don’t take it out on the wrong people or in the wrong places. Most of the health care professionals that see you during your visit have no control over how data is shown to you. Understanding who to speak with and how to say it is just as important as what you say.

2. Providers

Providers, your role is to get your head out of the sand and embrace empowered patients. The demand for more data is not a pendulum that is swinging in both directions; patients will only continue to ask for more access to more of their personal health information. Accept that truth and embrace the role of an informed partner when a patient requests it. You should welcome the fact that they want to take more responsibility for their own health.

Empowered patients can be your strongest advocates or your greatest detractors; it’s your choice. Commit to making your best attempt to work with your existing health IT systems, and open the door to new possibilities as they come to market. Innovative companies are listening to you and are creating solutions based on your feedback as well.

3. Health IT organizations

Health IT service providers hold a lot of the cards in the deck. One of the greatest challenges seems to remain a lack of incentive to create platform-agnostic solutions. Depending on who I ask, I hear about a lot of redundant efforts to solve the same problems in parallel. I don’t have all of the answers here, and I don’t know if part of it has to do with the sheer number of competitors (there are hundreds of EHR providers, for instance). I’ve heard that that issue might solve itself through market correction, mergers and acquisitions. But regardless, there is room for more collaboration.

A closing thought

If nothing else, maybe this will give us reason to apply more lessons from outside of health care. The next time we get behind the wheel, we can remember that we aren’t the only industry to be challenged to solve complex problems that come from consumer expectations and technological advances. Perhaps other solutions are even closer than we think if we are open to them.

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Jared Johnson

Digital marketing pro, health care communicator, pianist, entrepreneur

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