Ask someone what they think the “best” job in the world is, and you’ll get an answer that’s framed by their worldview and current situation.
To an elementary school student, it might be a firefighter or astronaut. To an entry-level accountant, it might be the CFO of a Fortune 1000 company. Ask a cancer patient, and they might say one of the researchers behind the clinical trials for the treatment they’re about to undergo. But regardless of age, gender or life status, tell someone they’re about to speak to a “futurist” -- and undoubtedly there’s room for a bit of curiosity and wonder.
That world of curiosity is inhabited by Amy Zalman, a global futurist who helps organizations understand trends and prepare for the changes those trends will ultimately usher in. With a career spent at the nexus of technology, communications, public policy and defense, Amy’s expertise is about as close to a qualitative “crystal ball” that a company can get.
Maria Simeone: Preparing for the future is an inexact science at best -- but if there’s anyone equipped to do that, it’s you. What’s one thing you can tell us about the future of healthcare in the wake of the monumental disruption we’ve all collectively experienced?
Amy Zalman: You don’t have to be a researcher to know that there are certain areas of life that people are feeling really gloomy about. [Whether it’s] the elections, international relations, or the media landscape, people are feeling really bad about the relationships between themselves as individuals and these institutions that govern our daily lives.
But what I’ve found in my investigations is that people aren’t really thinking about the health landscape in that way. While there are definitely concerns around certain institutions, there’s also belief in the potential for empowerment. They’re seeing opportunities for things like better patient education and increased access to care -- and so people are a bit more hopeful about “having a say” in the future of healthcare and the overall health landscape.
MS: How and where does technology influence that sense of empowerment?
AZ: Technology is part of it -- particularly with [things like] telemedicine and virtual checkups that provide tangible examples of entryways to better, more convenient, and possibly more cost-effective care. But the general sense of empowerment isn’t driven by any one, specific, snazzy new technological development.
It’s more about people seeing how technology can help them navigate the changes and challenges they may face when interacting with healthcare institutions -- whether that’s as a patient with a hospital or insurance provider, or as a marketer [seeking to access] health-related information in new way that expands the bounds of HIPAA compliance.
MS: Speaking of HIPAA compliance, there is a wave of untapped health-related data starting to come on board from devices like step trackers and smart watches, and it’s not regulated by any specific institution yet. How might these new types of digital determinants of health fit into the self-empowerment equation?
AZ: It’s interesting because there are quite a few ideas floating around about, for example, making patient data more interoperable, or giving people the freedom to do what they want with their health information as a form of empowerment. And while many of these ideas are medically virtuous, they’re not necessarily altruistic, and some even originate from institutions like device makers that people no longer trust.
So before people can be really comfortable with doing things like allowing their watch to send heart rate data [to a doctor] before a telemedicine session, they need to be educated about the systems in place, what those systems do with the data and how it ultimately benefits them. And from my understanding, whether it’s blockchain or some other technology, that system doesn't quite exist yet.
MS: So what is one unexpected tech-driven or tech-adjacent trend that healthcare professionals should keep an eye on?
AZ: I’m fascinated by the “grinder” movement and how it’s indicative of a broader, collective cultural shift toward doing things yourself.
There’s a growing group of people who believe that basically everything in our bodies is hackable. And on some levels, you might say we all do a bit of biohacking -- whether it’s changing your diet, eliminating caffeine or even just exercising -- but the grinder movement gets a label because some of the ideas are a bit more extreme.
People are experimenting with doing microsurgeries on themselves, growing and implanting things in themselves, and essentially treating the body itself like a technology that can be manipulated and shaped to produce specific outcomes. It’s self-empowerment taken to the extreme.
The grinder movement is relevant to healthcare marketers in particular because of the role that [life science brands] play in terms of patient education. Even when people are searching for information about some of the less extreme practices like microdosing, there’s an opportunity to help provide reliable, accurate information about things like side effects and contraindications.
And while I wouldn’t draw a line to it and say this is impacting healthcare providers and hospitals now, it’s important to keep an eye on these more fringey things because certain behaviors and beliefs ultimately get incorporated into the mainstream.
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