Newcomer To Healthcare - Perspectives a Year On

I joined Koneksa to run technology in May 2014. I’ve spent many years building systems for financial services and, to some, extent consumer industries. I joined healthcare motivated to apply my skills after watching how technology was changing the conversation in my father’s last months of life. The journey has not disappointed.

In this post I share two themes I’ve noticed over the last year. 

Emotion & Empathy

Healthcare is often as much about emotion and empathy as it is about solutions, services and care. Health is a very personal topic for many and suffering with a condition can have a very emotional impact on your life.  

This isn’t a surprise but I think what has surprised me is that this also applies to tools built to help people with their health. I hadn’t appreciated that a patient can view an activity tracker as an aide to accountability, or that the colors you choose for your dashboards, the sentiment they create, matters as much as the information they show. 

People can be emotional about money, and their wealth is personally important, but the level at which people feel emotion about their health can be quite different and a lot more complex than how they think about money.

Most of the people who work in healthcare that I have met, whether creating new medicine or delivering care, are some of the most professionally passionate people I have met. Working in healthcare is part science, part vocation and a lot of passion – passion to help people, create better lives, and overcome significant challenges. It is equally about empathy, being able to relate to, and help, people in ways that are supportive yet often firm, informed by clear science yet balanced with an understanding and support – the “bedside manner”.

Data/Technology

In the application of technology to healthcare, the industry is trying to rapidly change how care is developed and delivered at a much more rapid pace than I believe technology and data changed finance or consumer industries. Before I worked in healthcare I hadn’t appreciated this challenge at all, or the operational scale at which a decentralized and semi-privatized healthcare system operates, like that of the US.

Healthcare is trying to go from a historically decentralized and paper based industry to a digital industry. For providers, this has meant conversion from paper-based records to electronic (EMR). For clinical trials this means transitioning from spot measurements and diaries to continuous digital measurement.

EMR’s remind me a bit of general ledgers – the huge databases that financial institutions use to record their positions, calculate exposures and run their books. If you were involved in these systems in the 90s you’ll likely remember that they were hard to build, required significant operational support and took a long time to fully evolve.

Finance and consumer are also clearly heavily dependent on technology and data. However, I propose that they evolved more iteratively from a more consistently defined baseline of standardization and common understanding – concepts like money have a clear definition and a ledger of transactions has a relatively fixed number of objectively defined attributes. Healthcare data contains many more variables, is often subjective in measurement and relies significantly on individual interpretation.

Final Thoughts For Now

A year ago I would have assumed my first post for Koneksa would be about technology. In the last year I’ve learned much – perhaps most importantly that technology is a tool, and that great technology or cool analytic methods need not be the best approach or what people want. The best technical solution is often simple and what matters most is helping make better and more informed health decisions. 

Working in enterprise technology has traditionally meant most employees are relatively distant from the direct customer – e.g. in finance, the person on Main street with a checking account or the counter party in a trade. Healthcare is much more personal. I’ve met patients, nurses, and clinical researchers face to face and often. We’ve investigated everything from historic weight loss program data to near real time recording of activity data in studying the recovery from radiation therapy in cancer patients. It’s been a great journey so far, challenging in ways I didn’t expect but more rewarding than I hoped for.


By Robert Ellis, CTO of Koneksa Health