Innovation of healthcare and the lessons to be learned from archeology

imageIt’s almost sacrilegious to discuss the importance of technology on a TEDx-site – but I’m going to do it anyway :-) Basically, every day I deal with people who think healthcare will just get better of its own accord as soon as they start using Twitter, Facebook or Whatsapp. This is due to the paeans offered up daily in newspapers and blogs. Where would we be without Facebook and Twitter, and how could we find our way without TomTom? Can we even imagine life without smart-phone, tablet and internet? Sometimes it seems that technology has a life of its own. As if technology has really changed the world. Some people even go so far as to suggest that the future of the human race can only be ensured if we go beyond our biological limits and merge ourselves with technology.

Frequently such articles are written by technology-fetishists who have an above average hope of and belief in technology. This blind hope means that often technology is brought in and installed with the expectation that the problem – whatever it is – will solve itself. In the article The Fetish of Technology David Harvey makes it clear, in the most impressive way, that technology doesn’t play a role by itself or just appear. There is always a social context that, in the end, decides whether or not technology is adopted successfully. You can have the best technology in the world, but it doesn’t work without the right social conditions and attention to the human dimension. An example of this is the visual telephone (video phone) that was postulated as early as 1900.


It was almost a century later that it became a reality. Not because it was technically impossible until then but because until recently people didn’t see what use it was. For more examples see the rich research area archaeology of the new media.

Technological innovation v. social innovation
Do you want to ensure that technology offers people (or healthcare) something more? Then you have to pay attention to the human side of technology. The implementation of technological innovations in healthcare is often compared with a change of direction. People have to be convinced of the point of it and to work with it in one way or another. It is often the case that project leaders believe that if the technology is good then the change comes of its own accord. Research (Erasmus University, 2010) has shown that in fact the success of changes that have taken place only 25% is due to technological innovation and 75% is due to social innovation. Social innovation means investing in human capital in which full attention is given to standards, values, needs, expectations and support for people who work with technology, such as an on-line help intervention. In practice for many projects 75% of the time is spent on technology and only 25% on the social aspects. In most of these projects it then leads to the destruction of capital.

Lessons for healthcare
If, in healthcare innovation, we are to learn from the past, then we must realise that it isn’t technology that changes the world, but people. It is the needs of people that determine whether or not technology is adopted successfully. In healthcare this means not only considering the needs of the client and the healthcare professionals but giving sufficient attention to the question of how things should be done with the technology in question to ensure agreement, responsible and quality care. In such a situation technology does have added value.

Erasmus University(2010).Sociale innovatie: nu nog beter! Erasmus Concurrentie en Innovatie Monitor 2009-2010.Rotterdam: INSCOPE/RSM/EUR.

Research Beenkens: (pdf, 101 Mb).

Harvey, David (2003) “The Fetish of Technology: Causes and Consequences,” Macalester International: Vol. 13, Article 7.

Paper David Harvey:


A blog by Wouter Wolters