You witness. You walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.
Eric Dishman, 43
Director of health innovation
and policy, Intel
MOST 16-YEAR-OLDS—even a computer geek like Eric Dishman—would consider caring full-time for an Alzheimer’s-afflicted grandmother a form of social death. For Dishman it became the birth of a career. “There was no technology, there were no services, people barely understood what Alzheimer’s was,” he recalls. “I thought, ‘There’s gotta be a better way to help families cope.’” As Intel’s director of health innovation and policy, Dishman now develops technologies and fights legislative battles to improve health care and quality of life for all seniors.
Dishman’s program is ambitious: move 50 percent of all health care to the home; allow doctors and nurses to provide care electronically and over the phone when needed; and provide incentives to doctors and nurses to make prevention (rather than treatment) the central focus of care. His means are often unconventional. A communications major and tech wunderkind (at age 21, he joined Paul Allen’s Silicon Valley–based think tank, Interval Research, to conceive of how computers would move from the office to our everyday lives) who’s dabbled in anthropology, sociology, rock ’n’ roll, and theater, Dishman often pairs doctors, nurses, and patients with improv actors to imagine new technologies. He argues that in his extensive field observations of the health care system one of the biggest insights he ever gained came by “handing the clipboard to the patient.”
“They start taking notes as the doctor’s talking to them, and guess what? The whole thing changes,” he says. “The doctor slows down and starts helping them make sure they’ve got it right.”
Dishman provided expertise in the drafting of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, helping to add, for instance, key provisions that would allow doctors and nurses to be paid for services provided electronically. His most recent creation, a touch-screen tablet software called Connect, is designed to combat the loneliness and isolation that he’s observed with seniors. Not only does it allow users (and their health care providers) to monitor their well-being on a daily basis through a series of branching questions, it provides a simple-to-use, Facebook-like platform that allows seniors to connect with family and friends.
“Just because you’re absent of an illness or an injury doesn’t mean you’re having a meaningful human experience,” Dishman reflects. “Health is not the absence of pain. It’s the presence of purpose.” —Martin Patail