But what experience and history teach is this: that people[…] never have learned anything from history, nor acted on principles deduced from it
G.W.F. Hegel, Philosophy of History
Reviewing the recent history of health communications does nothing to challenge Hegel’s pessimistic view of the potential our previous mistakes have to inform our future actions.
From 2008 to 2011, the online health conversation boasted an abundance of self-appointed ‘social media experts’, often clutching tablets in their avatars, eager to enlighten us as to where we should be listening to what people were saying about their health on our new mobile devices.
From 2012 to 2014, the health conversation teemed with ‘digital health experts’, now wearing Google Glass in their avatars, who counseled us as to what devices and apps we should be using to gain insights into the lived experience of patients.
Currently, the health conversation swarms with ‘Futurists’, occasionally with avatars depicting them with virtual reality devices strapped to their heads, enthusiastically championing the uses to which they believe technology will be put on behalf of or by patients in future healthcare settings.
In our relentless pursuit of health-related novelties, we are eager to discover the next supposedly important development whilst simultaneously electing to overlook the many existing problems within health that we have yet to resolve. Far from having exhausted the potential of the tools we now have to hand, we can scarcely lay claim to having begun to adequately utilise them.
Circular, interminable discussions of ‘disruptive’ health technologies abound, each of which prey upon the paranoia of an audience that deems the possibility of being unaware of the existence of yet another gadget that will do nothing to improve patient outcomes a fate too terrifying to comprehend.
However, there are some individuals, usually activists rather than commentators, who have elected not to proceed any further down this path on the basis that they consider their destination to have been reached.
That destination is patient experience.
Whilst empowering technologies and the social turn in the health conversation have helped us get to this point, we have learned so little from patient experience to date that our eagerness to ‘move beyond’ what we are discovering about the lived experience and underserved needs of those living with ill health and disability seems to suggest that we have mistaken our journey’s end for just one more milestone.
In truth, there is nothing beyond patient experience.
How can we say something with such certainty, and be sure we are right?
Ask those who are managing a chronic disease and attempting to live in their best possible health.
Ask those who are perplexed by a diagnosis that they feel poorly equipped to deal with.
Ask those who are searching for reliable, relevant, timely, accessible health information.
Ask those who are seeking the solidarity, comfort, and expert insights of peers who have shared the same experiences as them.
Ask those who are living with disability, or who are in recovery, as well as those who may be caring for them.
They will tell you why.
If you work in any area of health communications and do not know how, why, where or when to talk with patients, reflect on the fact that you may be taking part in the wrong discussions.