Blister plasters, fabric plasters, Savlon spray, Strepsils, Olbas oil, Dioralyte sachets, and a couple packs of the contraceptive pill.
These are the items you can find in my medicine cabinet. Your medicine cabinet might hold similar items or might look entirely different. Perhaps you use homoeopathic remedies, it could be that you rely on the curative power of foraged herbs and berries, or maybe you have a condition that requires keeping a whole host of prescribed drugs in your medicine cabinet. You might even own a combination of all three.
Is this feeling a bit personal? If so, good.
People choose to manage their health in ways that work for them. Ways that fit with their belief systems and sometimes through health practices that have been passed down through generations. In his photography series, ‘Home Pharma’, Gabriele Galimberti documents what people keep in their medicine cabinets and the results are strikingly different and intimate. Even if it’s not something you think about regularly, everyone has preferences when it comes to their healthcare.
Global charities and organisations providing emergency healthcare can sometimes forget these points of human difference. In times of crisis, a UK-based charity will likely approach a health emergency abroad with the healthcare tools and methods that they believe will work most effectively. There isn’t always time to think about alternatives. The aim is to save lives, and fast.
During the Ebola outbreak, well-meaning organisations rushed in to help people who were suffering. But, the communities were not consulted on where Ebola treatment centres should be located or how deceased bodies should be buried. These communities felt violated. It was a medical approach when it needed to be a human approach.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) took a different tack. They used a team of anthropologists who specialised in health to spend a month in Sierra Leone listening to locals explain their belief systems. They worked collaboratively. They treated patients the way patients should be treated, with dignity and respect. They treated them like humans.
Humans need to sit at the heart of every aspect of healthcare, from international health charities deciding how to best care for people to businesses here in the UK. Companies like WEGO Health are partnering with ‘Patient Leaders’ and their communities to bring healthcare businesses closer to people’s needs. Health networks like PatientsLikeMe facilitate a space for people to connect with other members who have the same condition, so they can conduct their own research. The healthcare model is flipping from a top-down model to one that is centred on the patients it serves. And it makes perfect sense – people know themselves and their communities better than anyone else.
Even on a personal level, people are monitoring their health, and there is no sign of this trend slowing down. IDC forecasts that the wearables market will nearly double by 2021, as people are tracking their own heart rates and activity levels. It is only a matter of time before we are tracking everything from our glucose levels through our contact lenses to our urine and stool through our toilets. We care about our health, because we are human. We are curious and self-serving.
If you are a player in the healthcare space, it is time to rethink your role when it comes to your patients, consumers or beneficiaries. Is there an opportunity for you to be a product innovator and fill a gap in the health market? Would your brand be better positioned as a facilitator, where you bring people together? Could you help guide people through complicated healthcare information? Even if you’re not in the healthcare space – is there an innovative way that your brand could fulfil a human healthcare need?
Whatever healthcare role you choose to play it needs to be human, not medical. It is time to hang up the white coat and listen to what people and their communities genuinely want.