The United States is at a turning point in our healthcare system.

As it is, we pour in billions of dollars each year and get some of the worst health outcomes of all high-income nations.

We insist on reducing society-wide health problems to individual medical issues, as if the right medicine will be enough to counteract profound disparities in income and employment, nutrition and access to care. We talk of equal rights and equal opportunity, even as research shows that the weight of unrelenting discrimination is, literally, killing off our neighbors based on the color of their skin.

At the same time, we have a growing healthcare technology sector that is trying to do damage control and even disrupt our broken system. I think we need to encourage and support this – but I also think we need to consider what being “disruptive” really means in the health sector.

With so much work to be done, and such a wide range of technology being created, I don’t think there can be a one-size-fits all approach. Instead, I offer a few guiding principles to help healthcare tech companies get the positive impact they seek.

Remember, we can achieve everything we dream – but only if we build the foundation first.

7 Laws of Truly Disruptive Healthcare Technology

1) Let empathy and compassion lead.
The healthcare tech world is like a sci-fi dream: artificial intelligence, augmented reality, robotics, precision medicine, telehealth … it can be easy to get lost in the fun of the latest technology. That’s why companies must work overtime to make sure they always put people first. It must never be about tech for tech’s sake but, rather, for its ability to foster more connection and provide more compassionate care.

2) Make ending bias a core value.
Entrenched prejudice and bias are such a part of the problem that ending them must be a part of the solution. That means companies need to commit, individually and corporate-wide, to end their biases and work to broaden their perspective.

3) Actively place people from a wide range of backgrounds in positions of power.
This goes hand-in-hand with the commitment to ending bias. Too often, under the guise of hiring and promoting people who “fit our corporate culture,” people from different backgrounds than the owners or investors are excluded from top levels of corporate power. This is a form of institutionalized discrimination that prevents businesses from expanding their point of view to include new perspectives – even when those points of view hold the critical information they need.

4) Accept that “faster” and “more” are not necessarily the same as “better.”
Shunting more people through a bad system is not healing. Getting inequitable, ineffective things done faster is not progress. In fact, the most disruptive thing you can do might be to create more time and space for the giving and receiving of care.

5) Create a barometer of success that focuses on the most marginalized communities.
Our most marginalized neighbors are likely to see the greatest impact from overhauling our healthcare system. Yet, they are frequently ignored when other segments of the population start seeing benefits. The easiest way to prevent this inequity is to make sure that data are assessed across various communities, and that the definition of success includes positive impact among the most marginalized.

6) Collect user feedback from a variety of patient populations and communities.
Different people live in different situations, so feedback must be gathered from a wide range of communities. This type of real-world feedback should be embedded in the company growth and testing process.

7) Develop solutions that address the health of both patient and provider.
The high rates of depression and suicide in doctors and nurses show they are as damaged by our healthcare system as their patients. To overhaul healthcare, we must treat our providers with compassion and allow them to be the healers they originally sought to be.

To be truly disruptive, healthcare technology must think big.

Putting a layer of technology on a broken system gets us nowhere. We need to address the root causes of the problems in our healthcare system, and build from a core set of values. The seven I’ve listed here will go a long way towards making sure any new healthcare tech is also disruptive.

Photo by Clark Tibbs on Unsplash