Is Technology Really a "Solution"?

Last Friday, I was honored to moderate a panel on emerging, disruptive technology for the Ohio State University Graduate Program in Health Services Management & Policy Alumni Society annual Management Institute.  Panelists were:

·         Dr. Nikhil Shah, Chief of Minimal Access and Robotic Surgery, Piedmont Health Care

·         Justin Gernot, Vice President Business Development, Healthbox

·         Chris Coloian, Senior Vice President Revenue and Growth, Verscend

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Each one of them offered great insights, and I heard many glowing reports about how effective the panel was.

One of my questions dealt with why senior healthcare executives sometimes are less than enthusiastic about adopting technology.  The panel agreed that sometimes vendors create unrealistically high expectations of what their products or services can do and often call them “solutions.”  

Part of me gets that.  The developers have worked hard to identify a specific problem and craft a methodology and technology to solve that problem.

But I also have mixed feelings about calling these technologies “solutions.”  The classic non-tech definition of “solution” is something that completely fixes a problem.  Until the issue is fully resolved, it really hasn’t been solved.  An algebra problem isn’t solved until “x” has been identified and the student runs the value of “x” through the original problem and verified that all the numbers check out.  Rubik’s Cube isn’t solved until each face shows only one color.

But healthcare problems are typically much harder to tame.  Justin pointed out that, when it comes to most healthcare applications, software is only part of the equation.  The other two crucial elements that must be addressed are:

·         Identifying, documenting, and optimizing the underling workflows that drives the process being addressed – Without this, all you are doing is becoming more efficient in carrying out a dysfunctional process.

·         Getting buy-in from all people involved in the process – Many hospital personnel have developed heel-dragging into an art form.

It’s only when all three elements – the technology, the process and the people – are aligned that you can say the problem is on the way to being truly solved.  I realize that I am nit-picking.  Perhaps this is the old English major in me rearing its head.  

Dr. Shah observed that failing to recognize a challenge’s complexity can create the impression that the vendor views their product as the proverbial silver bullet that will fix all the hospital’s problems.  Seasoned clinicians and executives have heard it all and can sometimes be jaded about overblown vendor claims.  

Bottom line:  I urge my clients to carefully consider whether or not to refer to their products as “solutions.”  It’s not the kiss of death, but I believe it can make them come across as “salesy” and glib and can undercut their credibility.