Making Sense of Disposable Technologies for Healthcare

Sometimes I wish we called social media “disposable media”. Not just social media, but much of 21st Century media and digital technologies. Disposable media might remind us of the fast-changing times we live in.

Healthcare has always struggled to keep up with technology’s pace. How with today’s fast-evolving technological and cultural changes can Healthcare make sense of it?

I think there are some ways, and taking a closer look at the disposability of media and in what ways technologies evolve may help to build a frame through which to peer.


If you go back through the last thirty years of media evolution, what you find are many innovations, adoptions, incorporations and abandonments.

Sometimes media which appear to be new are simply re-framings of a previous version. A stream of Facebook updates is kind of like media-rich RSS. Friending is like subscribing.

Twitter is like a wedding rice version of SMS: it’s like you can take a text message, toss it into the air and let anybody see it – and they can even re-toss it across the churchyard (i.e. retweet it).

So these media which we call social are rather disposable. Disposable in the sense that once you’ve mastered one, another comes along and you have to relearn that one – conceivably ad infinitum.

The point here is that much of today’s media evolve in both stepwise and leaping fashions.

The step-wise evolution of media is decently easy to predict.

It’s the leaps which are harder to anticipate.

But what’s interesting about these steps and leaps isn’t so much the technology – it’s technology’s effect on culture and communication and behavior.

For even though Twitter and Facebook are technical steps, it’s the cultural leaps which are most revealing: just five years ago, it was still hard to imagine that people would be sharing so much personal information publicly.


I think part of the reason industries like Healthcare and Life Sciences have struggled with social disposable media can be broken down into two factors: not keeping up with the technical steps and not paying attention to the cultural leaps.

When you’re not sure about how to interpret the ever-evolving landscape of today’s media, try to dissect the problem into four groups, or quadrants (click image below or here for detail).

Let’s take an example. Health information technology comes with all four quadrants. We can move from simple PHRs/EHRs (one patient accessing data individually and privately) to complex ones (many patients exchanging health data publicly). Here’ the breakdown:

  • Technical Step – Ability to transfer paper medical records onto basic electronic media.
  • Cultural Step – Single, private retrieval of health data by patients.
  • Technical Leap – Injection of social features into electronic medical/personal records.
  • Cultural Leap – Active public sharing of personal health data by patients.

Here, we can see that a relatively small technical step (paper to basic electronic) can open up a small but important cultural step: a patient being able to access her health data on her computer privately.

But technical leaps, like Social EMR – where more complex integration of various sources of medical data can be integrated – can open up huge leaps: many patients all over the world sharing their health data publicly.

Today’s technology is evolving so fast – and the rate of the rate is itself incresing – that it’s hard to tell where to invest time, money, attention and other resources.

Moreover, many of the media emerging are disposable.

Who knows: maybe culture itself is becoming more and more disposable. That may be our biggest challenge.

So rather than over-investing in particular media on a case-by-case basis, I think a better mind-set is a balance of two attitudes: 1) swiftly assessing new media and deciding on adoption and 2) accepting that the media will pass by quicker than you can predict.

In other words: don’t marry the media. Dating will do.

Dating: it’s got the best of both worlds – Social and Disposable. 🙂

@PhilBaumann@HealthIsSocialOur Secret Society


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