Category: Population Health
July 20 2016
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Who would have ever thought Pokémon could be promoting health? The viral adoption of the new app is a prime example of technology innovation by the private sector influencing the health of populations.

With the Pokémon Go phenomenon, there was a convergence of key ingredients at a perfect time. The strong existing trademark of the brand, plus mobile devices equipped with cloud computing and GPS, inspired the creation of an app that allowed gamification to drive healthier behaviors.

We often hear how video gaming and handheld technology can be a health detriment in many cases. These platforms introduce background distractions for people and potentially reduce face-to-face social interactions, and research suggests that part of the obesity epidemic in young adults and children is due to reduced physical activity and increased screen time.

It’s ironic, then, that a video game could serve as its own remedy. Thanks to Pokémon Go, people are now getting out of the house or off the couch and walking around in search of the game’s rewards. I see people on the street having impromptu conversations more often than before. To me, it’s confirmation that technology is one of the greatest levers to drive health and that continued innovation is needed.

This convergence reminds me of one of the most frequent sayings from our co-founder and CEO Neal Patterson: “We are [truly] at the intersection of health and IT.” Our mobile devices and other wearables are designed to track our movements, habits and other personal activity, creating a vast opportunity using the information gathered for micro-segmentation and targeted engagement. For someone who is interested in trying to keep people as healthy as possible, this data can be combined with an individual’s health and care information to promote better health outcomes.

As Neal often says, “health care ultimately becomes personal.” We are in the era of health care personalization. Personalized medicine is much more than biomarkers and genetics. It’s about knowing the person and understanding how to engage them in their health. We’ve had tremendous success in our onsite health centers across Cerner as a result of engaging people at a personal level through health coaching, team based care and understanding that the patient is a person with very specific goals and abilities.


There are thousands of apps being developed and service-related startup companies that strive to engage individuals as consumers across a broad spectrum of personal interests. As we’ve seen in the past few weeks, there are opportunities to make health promotion a positive outcome regardless of whether it was part of the original design. We need to leverage all that we can to keep our communities healthy, and we’ll see many interesting opportunities from other consumer offerings.

Pokémon Go offers a window into how the medical provider’s world is changing. Going back before my time, patients had a very paternalistic relationship with their physician: people told the physician what they were feeling, and the doctor told them what to do to feel better.

Throughout my career, I’ve seen this relationship evolve into a partnership between patient and provider. It’s no longer only doctors who have access to the vast array of information pertaining to medicine, health and disease. People now have a much greater view into their own health data as well, which has been a major transition for providers who were used to considering the chart as the “provider” view, even though the information contained inside it belongs to the patient.

Patients come to their providers with information and questions, and they want to be informed on options for how to proceed. The conversation has changed. We now need to understand the goals, desires and behaviors of our patients to have meaningful discussions to help them improve their health.

The data set that modern day providers have access to will exponentially increase going forward. It will consist of more than lab values, test results, problems, medications and allergies. The game has changed, and our technology has to provide concise and relevant views of the information to equip providers to have those meaningful interactions around health. It also has facilitated the broader adoption of team-based care models.

It’s an exciting time to be in health care, and I’m encouraged by the promise that technology offers to promote the health of our communities.

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