Dr. Joe Kvedar is the Residency Program Director of the Department of Dermatology at Harvard Medical School. He is also the Founder and Director of the Center for Connected Health, an organization whose provocative goal is to help patients “become their own primary care provider.” I caught up with Dr. Kvedar at a recent health conference, and asked him to explain what his company’s approach contributed to the healthcare landscape.
Dr. Val: What is the Center for Connected Health?
Dr. Kvedar: Connected Health’s mission is to empower patients to be maximally in control of their own health destiny. As much as possible, we’d like to see patients become their own primary care provider.
There are three principles that must work together to accomplish this: first you must have accurate information about the health behavior that you want to change. Measurements must rely on quantifiable data (like the step count of a pedometer) rather than more general self-reports of how physically active you are. Second, the report must be in a format that offers specific feedback to the individual. Trending of information is critical, but the trends must be understood in context. For example a patient with diabetes needs to see how their blood glucose levels are behaving over time, but more than that they need to see how their food intake was influencing these levels. And third, data-driven coaching inspires the application of data to real lifestyle improvements.
Giving accurate information about yourself (in a format that is contextually trended over time) to a person that you trust can inspire behavior change. People are more likely to change their unhealthy choices when they know they’re accountable to someone for them. An appropriate coach can be anyone from a friend in a social network to a digital avatar, to a doctor or nurse.
Dr. Val: So what’s the rate limiting step in getting this behavior change model adopted? Is it lack of financial incentives?
Dr. Kvedar: That’s certainly part of it, but it’s even more than that. Healthcare providers gravitate towards human resource-intensive solutions. Providers are simply not used to thinking of technology as a tool. Instead, they often perceive the solution to better patient compliance as an increase in staff to serve them. But this is not feasible given our provider shortage and increasing healthcare burden. It’s just really hard for doctors to imagine that patients could be coached effectively by an avatar, yet there are many examples of it working. Read more »