GE HealthCare Conference–Insights and Lessons

Beth Comstsock General Electric

Beth Comstsock General Electric

GE’s extraordinary CMO Beth Comstsock and GE HealthCare’s design guru Bob Schwartz put on Health By Design, a really important little conference on Thursday. I was lucky to be part of a panel that included Dr. Nicholas LaRusso, director for Innovation & SPARC Lab at the May Clinic Dr. Gary Kalkut the Chief Medical Officer of Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, and Paola Antonelli, the Senior Curator of Architecture & Design at MOMA. Sam Lucente, the head design guy at HP wss in the audience, as was Jeneanne Rae, co-founder of Peer Insight consulting and Irish Maliq, part of the innovation team at MSK—Memorial Sloan Kettering.

I’m going to post two blog items: my comments and thinking on heathcare, followed by a run-down of insights from the great speakers and audience. Here’s my talk:GE Healthcare Conference. 10/22/09.

“Thanks Bob. Let’s begin with the title of my 5-minute talk: how design is applied to problem-solving in healthcare. I would argue that Design and Design Thinking do more than help solve problems—they shape the problems themselves. With its user-focus and ethnographic tools and methodologies, Design is already re-shaping the healthcare problem from curing disease to maximizing well-being.

bob-schwartz-ge-healthcareDesign is re-shaping the health care problem from treating the individual patient to engaging the patient’s society—family and community.

Design is re-shaping the problem from going to a massive, centralized, distant edifice— the hospital— to delivering a service locally and intimately.

Design is re-shaping the entire healthcare paradigm from a focus on the dyad of deliverer and the receiver, doctor—patient, to a broader consideration of a networked system of delivery.

Allow me to zig and zag here to talk about Design and culture. We live in an era of cultural multiplicity. In our businesses, in our lives, in our healthcare, we need to deal with a huge number of cultures.

Why do we need to participate in so many cultures? First, social media and digitalization in general are creating thousands of new cultures every day. Mommies with blond twins living in Williamsburg. Korean students at Parsons in New York who like jazz. Breast cancer survivors living in Fort Lauderdale Florida who are nudists. The list is infinite. To live today is to belong to a large number of digital communities, especially if you are in the Gen Y generation. To deliver health care or cars or education or bike gear successfully, you have to participate and engage in conversations in those cultures.

Second, the decline of Western economic, political and cultural dominance and the rise of the rest, forces us to acknowledge, embrace and participate in national, regional and local cultures in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. In the past, GE HealthCare and every other global company made products and services in the US or Europe or Japan and sold them into Indian towns and villages. Today, GE HealthCare is collaborating with local Indian partners to build products that make sense in that culture. And sometimes, you can Trickle Up, as GE is doing today, by importing the locally-designed products back to the US. Simpler, cheaper, as good if not better products can be the result.

Now let’s quickly turn to Gen Y culture. The Decline of US Power globally and the Rise of Gen Y Power globally are two of the most powerful tectonic changes in our lives. Gen Yers tend to have a different, distinct culture from the Boomers. It tends to be participatory, collaborative, digital, urban, tool-using, tinkering and thing-making, green, pan-ethnic, pan-gender and trans-national. In Asia and the Middle East, Gen Yers tend have all these traits except the last three.

So it may be time for a Trickle Out strategy based on Gen Y to join Trickle Up based on bottom of the pyramid. Gen Y culture is dominated by Social Media technology platforms and Learn-Make-Share value systems. Let me repeat that. Social Media platforms and Learn-Make-Share values define the Gen Y generation. For this generation, this way of organization and this value systemmeans a de-massing and disaggregating of all service delivery, whether it is healthcare or education or shopping. It means active participation of people in their own well-being, from diagnosis to treatment. It means accessing information from multiple sources, sharing it with a community of friends who actively offer advice, and collaborating with doctors on treatment. Indeed, patients are becoming the new providers.