How Did Pokémon GO Just Reinvent Healthcare Consumerism?

Innovation scares a lot of good leaders. Many are attitudinally challenged. “Into the valley of death rode the six hundred,” Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote in Charge of the Light Brigade. The scary part is that none rode out. Staying the course tends to ensure continued employment.

Staying with the literary theme, I tend not to go gently into that good night when I talk about innovation—Dylan Thomas, not Bob Dylan. Sometimes I get this weird impulse to leap into the room and scream, “Juan, Paco, José, grab those machetes and shears . . . Viva la Revolución!” You see, I don’t mind looking like an idiot; I just like to do it on my own terms.

It is easier to spend your year counting how many paper clips it takes to run a health system. That tends to be their excuse. My dog ate my excuse. They also have a tendency to believe that curiosity is what killed the cat, curiosity about new ideas. Curiosity is why I get up each morning; besides, I am a dog person. I seek out opportunities to kick the scaffolding from under their feet.

The biggest problem leaders have when assessing innovation is that their nonnegotiability never becomes negotiable.

Have you ever sat through a strategic planning meeting? I have, and flies are dropping out of the air, dead from boredom. It is rare that I find a firm that actually has a defined strategy. What they usually have is a budget, and they leave no number unturned in their ability to explain why they cannot afford to do something that even hints of being innovative.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” The final line from The Great Gatsby.

Borne back to the past. Just like healthcare consumerism. The past tends to be a prologue to the future.

There are literally hundreds of health apps you can download that purport to have something to do with your health.

Most of them measure something; what you ate, what you did.

They are ineffective because if you didn’t eat right, or did not do anything, they have nothing to measure. And if you did not do anything—think exercise—you go to bed being no healthier than you were when you awoke.

You see, none of the apps can make you do anything. Samsung’s health app is called S-Health. Samsung extols S-Health as a fitness coach. It has “intuitive charts and helpful tips.” I felt healthier just reading that. It monitors things, a lot of things. Its pedometer feature tracks your steps.

For it, or any health app, to be effective, though, you have to give it something to monitor.

My children and probably many of yours live in what I call a step-free zone. A snail lapped one of them. They do not move unless food is involved. Or, at least until Monday they didn’t.

Enter Pokémon GO. One of my sons logged 9.4 miles on Monday. In a meeting yesterday, a very senior healthcare executive announced that his son walked 8.5 miles on Tuesday.

It’s not a health app. It’s not Bluetooth. What it is is something that changed behavior. The location-driven game conquered the planet in a week. Pokémon GO got more kids to exercise in twenty-four hours than Michelle Obama’s “Let’s MOve!” program did in eight years.

Fifty-three percent of smartphone users have an Android. On Monday alone, six percent of Android users opened the Pokémon GO app. It is estimated that by the third day, that there are 9.5 million daily active users.

What does all of this have to do with healthcare?

  • Your health system probably doesn’t even have an app
  • If it has an app, what percentage of the people in your service radius are daily active users? I bet it is way, way below 1%
  • Why don’t they use it?
    • It is not fun
    • It doesn’t create a great user experience
    • There is nothing that makes it habitual
    • There are no rewards

What would happen if all of the children’s’ hospitals threw together a Pokémon GO gym for its patients? They won’t, but they should.  If you think this idea has merit, don’t call on your marketing department or IT to do it.  Call a kid.

So, this is how the world works. It is not how healthcare works.

People are getting hurt playing Pokémon GO. They have fallen off of cliffs, been hit by cars, and one was bitten by a snake. Who are these people? What do we know about them? These are the people your marketing department is trying to reach.

And what do those people do when they get hurt? Do they pull up one of your apps and schedule an appointment? Nope. Do they go to your website and schedule an appointment? Nope.

Assuming they can find the number for your health system, maybe they call your system’s call center—the very idea of that just made my head explode. It should make the heads of your executives explode.

I bet a lot of them go to the Minute Clinic. And while they are waiting to see the nurse, and ignoring their broken leg, they are probably hunting for Pokémon over by the shampoos and in the Gummy Bear aisles.

So, if your reaction to Pokémon GO is that it is just a game for kids you should think about hiring your replacement.  It is called augmented reality, and yes, it already has its own acronym, AR. patients are already lining up–virtually–for e-clinics instead of brick and mortar locations.  They will expect doctors and nurses to make virtual visits to their homes.

The firms that will fall out of favor the fastest are those with the most outdated processes–alarm bells should be going off in the heads of providers and payers, especially since many of their employees are adverse to using newer technologies in their lives.  We are not talking about upping your use of Facebook and Snapchat, or updating your blog.

I mention this because healthcare is woefully behind planning and deploying anything that even hints of its interest in innovating through consumer technologies. Heck, most providers do not even have a CRM in their call centers.

I’d be willing to bet my neighbor’s BMW that nobody in your organization has even mentioned the term augmented reality.  So, if you are so smart, you are probably thinking, what should we be doing? 

Start with these two things:

  1. Develop a strategy that allows you to close your call centers within the next 3-5 years
  2. Hire your receptionist’s sixteen-year-old nephew as your Chief Augmentation Reality Officer.

And in case the director of the FBI is trying to track down who wrote this post, he won’t be able to figure it out. (I arranged to have my email server kept in a friend’s bathroom.)


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