Navigating the regulatory jungle – don’t advertise magic remedies

I have a busy week behind me with participation in the Boom Summit in Basel, which was great, and a busy work week coming up. Beyond work spring has sprung, the weather is beautiful and I have new strawberry plants on my balcony. I have also  soaked chilhuacle nero  chili seeds in tea, and a batch in water in order to compare performance,  before putting them onto a heating pad to germinate. 

  • BOOM Summit: Improving healthcare access and technology
  • Bad workman, bad tools or neither? Me, my bike and I 
  • Navigating the regulatory jungle – don’t advertise magic remedies
  • Leadership: Lessons from a consultant

BOOM Summit: Improving healthcare access and technology

Imagine you have no health insurance; no internet access and you cannot afford the bus fare to get to your nearest physician. Perhaps you are one of the 2.9 billion people, 37% of the world’s population, that has never used the internet (Source: United Nations Website, 2021).

How would technology help you? When I prepared for the panel discussion on improving health care accessibility through technology, that I took part in at Boom Summit last week, it became clear to me that I want to share my passion for technology and equitable access to healthcare, while remembering that 50% of the world’s population does not have access to the healthcare they need (Source) and that, depending on location, needs are dramatically different.  I realised I wanted to focus on healthcare access/intervention and context first, and modality, e.g. technology, second. Tech is fantastic, but it is not always the answer. Below my recommendations for how to approach improving healthcare access with and without technology.  

  1. Patients: Engage patients, involve patients. listen to all patients and don’t forget that patients are also doctors and nurses, physiotherapists, and computer programmers, molecular biologists, and lawyers. They know their disease, they know the science, they have programmed solutions where the industry has not provided what was needed.
  2. Identify the problem: the presenting problem is often, in fact, almost never in my experience as a consultant, the main problem you need to solve. Ensure you have understood the issue, and you understand the context, key stakeholders, and patient needs. Reality check this. A great example of what happens when you don’t understand the problem can be found in Ernesto Sirolli’s Ted talk: want to help someone, shut up and listen
  3. Identify the ideal solution in the context you are in:  For example, to provide stigma free access to mental health support, a psychiatrist rolled out friendship benches in Zimbabwe. Benches are placed in parks, they are staffed by community elders, who listen to and potentially triage individuals needing mental health support to practicing clinicians, thus lowering the barrier to ask for help, while implementing a cost-effective solution.
  4. Fast-track your approach: learn from other industries and others in your field. 
  5. Smart solutions can have a huge impact even if they don’t seem exciting:  Game changers that can save money and ideally support systems to reallocate funds where they are most needed, include: implementing better processes in managing the patient’s journey and health records and ensuring all treating physicians have access to the data. Allocating physicians to cases based on expertise and adapting on a case by case basis as a day in the clinic evolves. And AI supported diagnostic solutions.
  6. In many indications in the mental health arena the need is great: aging populations including patients in mental decline, and those who are confused and disoriented, will at some point overwhelm the available resources in healthcare systems in the Western world. I remember a patient I met while I was a medical student. He had dementia and he spent his day restrained in his chair. He seemed lonely. I drew a board game and got some buttons. I tried to engage him.  This was many years ago, but this man’s situation, and the situation of many others like him around the world,  still make me feel sad. Tech solutions like Paro the therapeutic seal, view a video: here.  can help patients feel more connected and less afraid. Another success story is the app Stigma, which “aims to foster a supportive community while breaking down societal stigmas associated with mental health”

My fellow panellists also shared many ideas including the following: 

Ventsislav Dobrev recommended you start small and develop your solution in increments, Brian Li Han Wong, stressed the importance of implementing solutions that match the environment you are operating in, sharing a story about failed healthcare initiatives when high-tech solutions were implemented in an environment unable to maintain them, and Sara Schmachtenberg spoke about the problem with too many apps which makes managing health difficult for multimorbid patients and that when tech investors are hesitant creative tech developers will stand out from the crowd. Julie Cheu led us through the panel discussion and was widely acclaimed afterwards as a fantastic moderator by audience members I spoke to. 

Key takeaway: Here, as everywhere, knowing what you are doing is critical: shiny, golden tech solutions have no legs if all they are is golden and shiny.

Bad workman, bad tools or neither? Me, my bike and I
There is an English saying: “a bad workman blames his tools.”  However, sometimes ensuring you have tailored tools for the job can be the difference between success and failure.
Last weekend, I cycled up a series of hills. The steepest incline was 16%, which, for me, is steep. In the past, I would not have had the ability or the desire to attempt it. However, last Saturday I really enjoyed the challenge and the satisfaction of cycling a difficult route.
So, what has changed? My fitness? A little, but mainly my motivation and my equipment have changed; I had my bicycle adapted to make hill cycling easier and I bought a bicycle computer that tracks where I am on an incline and collects data. When I started cycling, other cyclists often overtook me, whenever I cycled up a hill. I assumed it was because the cyclists were much better than me; I did not think to question my equipment. Then an avid cyclist looked my bicycle over and explained the issue.
Key takeawayYou may not always see key performance predictors if you are not well-versed in a subject. Properly equipping yourself and aligning with your personal motivators can improve performance more effectively than merely training harder.

Leadership: Lessons from a consultant

When I began consulting in 2013, I was tempted to manage every aspect of my business myself. It seemed manageable and sensible for someone just starting out. However, my father, who passed away recently, often told me, “Do what you are good at, delegate the rest.”

It took me a while to embrace his advice, but now I apply his wisdom in every area of my life. If someone else is better at a task, if the task is highly time-consuming and my time would be better spent elsewhere, or if I simply do not enjoy it, or the thought of doing it causes me anguish, I hire someone else to do it. The joy I get from seeing something taken care of well, and knowing I did not have to do it, is incredible.

In addition, this approach frees me up to focus on what truly matters to me: consulting, coaching, learning, participating in industry events, making new connections, engaging in charity work, cycling, hiking, spending time in nature and with my friends and family.

Key take-away: Energy is finite. Delegate where you can and focus your energies, the rewards are immense.

Reminder, Sign up for the panel discussion  on digital islands and AI on April 24th

Don’t forget to sign up for the panel discussion on digital islands I will be joined by Wolfgang Schwerdt and Peter Shone, both experienced data scientists. All information in the link below.

Sign up for the panel discussion on April 24th at 2 pm GMT, 3 pm CET, and 9 am EST: “Are you stranded on a digital island in a sea of data?”

I hope my blog provides you with useful insights. If  you need support with a project, or are interested in coaching, why not contact me to see how I can help. Find out what clients say about working with me here link.

My very best wishes

Isabelle C. Widmer MD

Image credit: Michelle Bridenbaker