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Can Anyone Stop the (Consumer Electronics Hype Cycle) Insanity?

September 9, 2014
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The intense hype around today’s set of Apple announcements reminded me of fitness guru Susan Powter’s catchphrase

Way back in the 1990s, a popular fitness guru—distinguished by her platinum-white, near-Marine-style haircut—named Susan Powter, became famous both because of her upbeat fitness regimen, and because of her famous catchphrase, “Stop the Insanity!” (Yes, always with an exclamation point.) Indeed, Stop the Insanity! became the title of her best-selling 1993 book on fitness. And it’s also how she greeted viewers to her short-lived TV show.

That catchphrase came to mind today as Apple made its announcement of the release of two new iPhone models, plus a smartwatch and a new mobile-payments platform. Associate Editor Rajiv Leventhal has written a separate news article about the smartwatch, called the Apple Watch, which will facilitate personal health-related apps, and which sounds potentially promising to me. I just want to focus on the hype—and yes, to shout, “STOP THE INSANITY!”!

Here’s the thing: yes, it’s interesting that Apple is introducing two new phones—both its iPhone 6, and its iPhone 6 Plus. And I’m certain there are improved features of interest on both phone models. But really—can we talk about the over-the-top hype in the mainstream, entertainment, and consumer electronics media? The last few days to week, it has been ramping up to the point of madness. And that type got a few thousand people to line up at Apple store in midtown Manhattan—even though the new phones won’t be available until Sep. 19.

So of course, there are innovations in the iPhone 6, including a bigger screen, new styling, and so on; and the iPhone 6 Plus actually is somewhat bigger than the iPhone 6, and has its own special features and benefits. All fine. But really? The way some in the mainstream and consumer electronics media were writing articles in print and online and producing segments in the broadcast and online media that virtually implied some kind of religious or inter-galactic event of some kind.

To be realistic, I suppose that some of this hype is inevitable in these situations. We all live in a media-, entertainment-, and technology-driven society, one in which everyone not living in a cave in the woods is pretty much inundated by the constant social pressure to have the latest and greatest. And certainly, there are countless “lemmings” out there who will flock to line up to buy anything new, regardless of what it is. But what has happened in the past two decades is that this desire for the very latest and greatest in consumer electronics has ramped up the constant sense of anticipation of new technology and also the sense, really, of entitlement to constant upgrades of consumer technology of all kinds.

Here’s the thing: many of the very same people who are hyper-early adopters in their consumer lives also work in the healthcare industry—of course, some of them as IT professionals, but also many as physicians, nurses, pharmacists, respiratory therapists, and other clinicians, as well as general executives, administrators, and other staffers at hospitals, medical groups, and health systems, and in health plans. Do they have the same types of expectations of their organizations’ electronic health records, PACS (picture archiving and communications systems) products, and so on?

Well, not exactly. Few healthcare professionals have the expectation that clinical information systems and related IT in healthcare will have the level of functionality present in the most whiz-bang, up-to-the-last-minute consumer technologies.

But the very same people who wear scrubs 40-plus hours a week and care for patients, are also buying some of the very latest consumer technologies; and their awareness of the gap between promise and practical reality in their work lives and personal lives, when it comes to technology, is growing by the day.

What’s more, many of the same clinicians who feel frustrated by the clunkiness and workflow-impeding aspects of EHRs are also the ones buying the latest-model iPhones, android devices, and other personal electronic devices. Is it any stretch of logic to believe that the same Dr. Smith who expects her iPhone to perform to an incredibly high standard of capability might also want her organization’s EHR to better support her workflow as a doctor on a moment-to-moment basis, as she cares for patients? I don’t think so.

Meanwhile, there is certainly a hype cycle in healthcare IT, too. It’s something we all know about, though it is exceedingly mild compared to what goes on in the consumer electronics world. But it also ends up regularly disappointing clinician and other end-users in healthcare.

In any case, as we move into the middle of the second decade of the 21st century, what is certain is that events like today’s set of announcements around new Apple products will continue to engage consumers around the country—and around the world—as they come to expect more and more from their consumer electronics every day. And healthcare IT leaders can never forget that those same consumers are also the clinicians, administrators, and staffers working their darnedest to care for patients and families in the exceptionally demanding world of patient care delivery. So the expectations are there—and will be growing—for clinical and non-clinical IT in healthcare, going forward. And healthcare IT leaders will forget that fact at their professional peril.