Applying Psychology to the Challenge of Internal Health Tech Adoption

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Health Tech's Uphill Battle

Adoption of technology in the healthcare field has been happening at an incredibly slow pace. This is a fact that few would disagree with. The market is saturated with health tech companies that are vying to be the next big unicorn in the field, but long sales cycles and simple underestimations of what is needed for HIPAA and FDA approval has led to the demise of many of these projects. The ones that do receive enough series funding to produce finessed products for health systems and pharmaceutical companies however soon realize that the battle against time is not over.

Simply getting into a health system is not enough. Once a contract is finally ironed out and the software is exchanged, the next uphill battle against the slow-pace of internal adoption is mounted. Not only is a speedy adoption important for hospitals to demonstrate that their purchases and investments were appropriate, but it is also key for founders who hope to demonstrate that their product works. Nothing is worse than the painfully slow adoption internally of a piece of technology. One bad experience has the potential to tarnish an organization’s appetite for future tech ventures.

Cracking the Internal Adoption Code

Junto Health Members who are the Heads of Innovation and Senior Leaders at some of the most renown hospitals throughout New York City have all, at one point or another, spoken to us about the huge challenge of simply getting a health tech product to integrate within their systems. Assimilating new technologies into preexisting workflows that have been scripted down to the minutia of how long it takes for a doctor to reach for a piece of gauze is a challenge. One not only needs to convince physicians, nurses, and whomever else will come in contact with the technology that it is worth their time to reimagine their workflow, but also must take the enormous risk involved with changing protocol. If a change is made that is misguided, the results can be detrimental and may put lives at risk. 

Some individuals have tried to mitigate this problem of slow internal adoption by focusing their attention on better understanding workflow processes to find holes where technology can slide in with little notice or disruption  while others have looked towards financial incentive models as a catchall reinforcer. I however, would like to posit that to overcome the battle against slow internal adoption we should not just focus on how the health system operates or payment structures, but instead place more emphasis on the human capital that makes it up.   

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We all like to believe that medical professionals are the real-life superheroes from comic books, but in the end, they are ultimately all humans. This is why there should be a much greater focus on psychology and the principles that have been established through the work of academics, researchers, and scientists when attempting to integrate health tech solutions. Some fields, such as public health, have already learned how psychological principles and theories can make a huge difference in whether an intervention is successful or not. Health tech and health systems however have not yet made this great leap.

A Psychology Crash Course

The ideas put forth by those regarding payment restructuring as a prime means of adoption do relate back to the well-known reinforcement system principles established in the 1930s by B.F. Skinner through his work with rats, but that is not where the potential for psychological theory usage begins and ends. 

One could look at the Theory of Reasoned Action developed by Martin Fishbein and Icek Ajzen in 1967 as a way to predict who in a health system is most likely to receptively adopt technology. The corresponding Theory of Planned Behavior can then elucidate further why expected adoption could be thwarted. Or maybe you could turn to developmental psychology and the concept of modeling to understand how later adopters of technology will need to be reinforced in their actions by the sight of other key individuals around them utilizing the same technology. Even sociology holds keys to successful technology adoption with premises such as Everett Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations that explains that categories of adopters that leads to mass diffusion of a new idea.

Visual Representation of the Theory of Reasoned Action (TRA) and the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) Source: DOI: 10.3389/fpubh.2016.00215

Visual Representation of the Theory of Reasoned Action (TRA) and the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) Source: DOI: 10.3389/fpubh.2016.00215

These is just an incredibly small sampling of the countless principles that psychologists have developed to give us a deep understanding of human actions and conditions. Technology adoption is just an aspect of human behavior and is not randomized and a mystery, but rather can be understood by looking towards the guiding principles of all other human actions. This, is why we should expand beyond simply pushing the same message over and over again about why the newest piece of technology is great. Instead, we need to take a minute to understand how the behavior of those in hospital systems can be changed by utilizing the work and theories established by psychologists and researchers. This will, without a doubt, lead to more effective and satisfactory health tech integration once the contract is signed on a dotted line.