Playing with our future

Canadians repeatedly and proudly say that our health care system is the most treasured piece of our cultural identity.  Some say it’s our highest expression of how we care for each other.  But what role are we really playing in maintaining the health of the health care system?  Like most aspects of democracy, our role is in transition, and I’d think we can find better ways to put citizens at the centre of health care.

Great efforts are being made to involve people in maintaining their own heath care, improve the planning of health care initiatives and the processes that patients are given so that they can have better health.   But the complexity of the system is a big barrier to getting a wide range of perspectives.  It's complicated, filled with political and professional tension, and very expensive.   Because of this, we often feel that people who have specialized knowledge about how the system works are the only ones who can provide informed input into changing the system.  At the same time, many doctors I work with want to get input from people who have no specialized knowledge of the sector, or the workings “behind the curtain.”   They want to understand how the impact of changes that make the system work better for providers will affect their therapeutic relationship with patients and their patients’ families / caregivers.

Many are looking to expand the range of ways we engage people in improving the health car system.  New apps engage people in playing games that inform them about ways to improve their health, and connect people with others facing the same chronic conditions.   There is evidence now that millions of people use a health app on a regular basis, and while they might not increase diagnostic abilities, they play a role in raising awareness of habits that improve our wellness

Improving the system so that it is sustainable requires that we close the loop on citizen engagement even more profoundly than we do now through surveys, public health announcements and engagement programs.  After all, we’re not just the beneficiaries of and believers in the system.  We’re also ultimately the funders.

I’ve been looking at ways we can involve people in designing a system that works for us and for care providers, without requiring specialized skills.   As much as the health care system is complex, there are patterns in the behaviour of system elements that can be understood and interrupted.   People can understand complexity if it’s presented to them in a way that is meaningful.  Gamification shows us that we need to think outside the box for ways to connect, engage and improve our collective responsibility for a system upon which we all rely.

In the next month, I’ll be offering an opportunity for people who know the system well – patients, professionals and policy-makers – to create a shared pool of knowledge about how we all respond to changes in the system.  Then I’ll be asking game designers and coders to build a tool that helps us to play, explore and discover new potential in our health care system…stay tuned!