The Human Future of Healthcare

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True innovation is not defined by technological prowess. At its core, innovation is defined by its ability to enhance our humanity and improve the ways in which we can help each other. So, when it comes to the future of healthcare innovation, even the smallest, human-led details can make a world of difference. Just one breakthrough in design can expand who has access to it.

Patient-First R&D

With rigorous clinical trials and novel approaches to infusing diversity into research, we develop our understanding of how to reach new populations. But just because a healthcare innovation exists doesn't mean it's getting used effectively and equitably. We listen to patients' needs, study their situations, and develop solutions — on the scale of one individual's experience and across the breadth of the global communities we serve.

Our first job is to understand the context of care — the cultural, social, and economic factors in a patient's life. Take high blood pressure, the silent killer. Millions of people don't know they have it, and even a diagnosis doesn't mean a clear, accessible path to treatment. Patient-first thinking tells us not to improve existing diagnostics but, rather, to ask what's holding people back and what more can we do after a diagnosis. In response, Medtronic has devoted years of research and development to investigating the nerves that lead to and from the kidneys and how a minimally invasive device might help some patients who have high blood pressure.

In other situations, patients have what they need — but now their care teams are sorting through troves of outputs, unsure where to start. Making sense of complex data across multiple sources of information in order to improve care has become more accessible with AI. In the past, diabetes care relied solely on blood-sugar measurement to adjust the therapy — a reaction to something that has already happened in the body. By using AI, we hope to integrate data about the patient from multiple angles, such as their lifestyle activity and diet, to predict impact and tailor therapy before the sugar level starts to change.

From investigating new frontiers to devices that respond in real time, these situations remind us that the barriers and needs are as nuanced as the patients themselves. We need human-centered design thinking — an approach that focuses on both the simple and the complex needs of those who use our products — to help close the gaps and secure the future of healthcare.

Human-Centered Design

Medtronic has always put people at the center of our design process. But as people continue to expect more from their care, they also expect more from their devices. People don’t want just their clinical needs met — they want their emotional needs met, too.

Led by the Innovation Lab, our hub that supports the creation of a wide range of products and therapies anchored in human-centered design, departments across our organization are developing deeper understandings of our patients and providers.

Working in the field, we saw most hospitals had only a handful of telemetry machines — a device that measures patients’ vital signs. The time it took to wheel it in, use it, and lug it to the next room prevented teams from working as efficiently as they could. This insight inspired us not to “rethink” the machine but, instead, remove it altogether. With a new software, telemetry technology could be downloaded in minutes to any iPad and used with an inexpensive reader. This healthcare innovation broke down physical barriers between doctor and patient, improving efficiencies and quality of care along the way.

In the United Kingdom, a small but mighty camera has a similar story. Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer worldwide. With screening, it can be one of the most preventable — but screening means a trip to the hospital and an invasive endoscopy procedure. While COVID-19 made endoscopies harder to schedule, many patients had already been avoiding them. With a camera that you can swallow delivered to your home, patients in the United Kingdom are experiencing an innovative and more private approach to care while also saving health services time, resources, and lives.

Led by Compassion, Driven to Care

When the Medtronic Innovation Lab began its work in Rwanda with the humanitarian organization Alight, there were few resources for basic human needs — let alone time to imagine the future of healthcare. We introduced compassionate, proactive care practices — and, soon after, the Amandi Compassionate Care Initiative was formed. The program identified ways to help members of the Gihembe refugee camp navigate their way to clinics. The clinics themselves were redesigned to be a more welcoming place for everyone who stepped inside.

Healthcare Technology That’s Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts

Developing new healthcare innovations for patients and their teams fuels our purpose. But without people at the center, the future of healthcare can become more about the latest device available for some instead of the latest medical breakthrough available for all. As data and AI continue to progress further than any of us could have imagined even a year ago, the patient factor — the human connection — will be vital to unlocking access for people around the world.

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