What do a 200-gram smartphone and a 4-ton MR machine have in common? Not much, at face value. But if we trace the past and future evolution of these two very different feats of modern technology, they actually follow surprisingly similar trajectories. Here’s why the comparison matters, and what it reveals for the future of healthcare.
I still remember the initial excitement of being able to talk to friends and family wherever I was. Early cell phones may have been somewhat cumbersome to use compared to today’s smartphones, but they represented a huge shift in how we went about our daily lives. The real breakthrough in smartphone technology, however, only came many years later, through a series of developments that upended the very nature of innovation.
First, there was the introduction of high-speed internet connectivity. This put the world at our fingertips, allowing us to find a nearby restaurant or to check when it’s going to rain while we’re on the go. From a technological perspective, connectivity also brought about another fundamental shift: it allowed for features of the smartphone to exist outside of the physical device itself – in the cloud. This enabled manufacturers to update and upgrade features over the air, and to introduce new ones over time, adding ever more value to their customers.
It’s hard to overstate how fundamental a change this was. What was once a static product, a device that offered the same fixed features until you replaced it with a new one, could now delight you with new services every time you picked it up.
Manufacturers then opened their platforms to others, introducing the first app stores. That’s when the pace of change accelerated exponentially. Third-party developers jumped on the opportunity to make a slew of new apps available. Digital ecosystem innovation was born, disrupting entire industries – from banking to music and photography. Today, there’s an app for everything. And thanks to AI, those apps keep getting smarter every day as they learn from ever-growing masses of data.
Our daily lives have changed profoundly as a result. What was once time-consuming and complex, is now fast and easy. Split and pay the bill after a night out with friends? Done with one press of the button. Looking to blur the background in your family snapshots? No need to be an experienced photographer. An app will do the trick for you.
More than ever, it makes me wonder: what would healthcare – an industry riddled with complexity – look like if we embraced the same digital best practices? How much more pleasant and frictionless could we make patient and staff experiences if we designed medical devices and systems with the same level of smartness and connectivity? How much more value could those systems and devices offer over their lifetime if we were able to update and upgrade them just as easily as our smartphones? And how much faster would we be able to innovate if we adopted the same ecosystem approach that has taken other industries by storm?