When we interviewed Marlies Schijven (Professor of Surgery at Amsterdam UMC; Project Leader eHealth, Dutch Federation of Universities) we asked how tech companies and developers can be better at communicating with medical professionals or patients – in order to create the technologies that the health sector really needs.
“By reaching out early. Do not develop something and be surprised that your believed ‘golden egg’ is no such thing, or not something we’ve been waiting for indeed! Collaborate early to better understand each other’s interests and needs.”
Taking tech out of the echo chamber
It might seem obvious – but it’s a really important point. The tech industry is an exciting place to work, and it’s full of brilliantly passionate people. And that’s a great thing; but sometimes the drive to create the next new, life-changing product or service, or the pressure to stay competitive, can override the need for good research.
So if there’s one simple piece of advice that all developers should hear, it’s this:
If you’re developing technology for a particular sector, then talk to people working in that sector. Don’t make something and then ask if it’s useful. Make something in collaboration with the people who’ll use it. This isn’t just relevant for health tech – it’s relevant for all tech.
Industry professionals who are wary of new tech are your best critics
Professionals across a wide range of industries – particularly industries that are seeing a rapid transformation in tech-based processes – demonstrate resistance to new technologies.
- Education. One 2021 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that teachers present high levels of anxiety or stress due to their use of EdTech in the classroom.
- Healthcare. Research suggests that many doctors and nurses show resistance to deploying new technologies in medicine; but what’s crucial for techies to understand is that when they’re resistant, there’s usually a very rational reason for that.
And studies show that patients can be highly resistant to new health information technology (HIT) as well.
- Agriculture. Actually, recent research in the UK by a think tank called Social Market Foundation (SMF) found that farmers are more open to adopting new tech than you might think – but they’re reluctant to invest in it not because of the technology itself, but because they don’t have confidence in government policy frameworks, funding opportunities, or the future of farming in general.
- Hospitality. Back in 2012, visitors at the Häagen Dazs ice cream café in London’s Leicester Square were surprised to find serving staff wearing headsets and communicating customer orders with the kitchen staff via digital devices. The tech wasn’t advanced for the time – and yet the overt use of tech in a hospitality setting was unusual.
Now, over a decade later, hospitality is still an industry that’s lagging behind in tech. The hotel sector in particular has a reputation for tech resistance – this 2022 study, for example, looked at why service robot usage triggers negative emotional arousal in hoteliers. And this article in Hotel Tech Report outlines the many factors that drive resistance to new tech in hotels, in spite of customer demand for tech-enabled experiences. Those factors include the cost of innovation, lack of infrastructure, and deep-set suspicion of untried tech.
If you’re a developer, the people who express resistance to cutting edge tech aren’t your enemies. Instead, they’re your most valuable critics. And so you should ask them questions, listen closely, and use their perspectives to shape your product development and marketing strategy.
If you’re developing a digital service for hoteliers, for example, then understanding exactly why they might dismiss it before they’ve even tried it will help you mitigate that resistance. Instead of making a product you think is great and then just using your marketing strategy to try to eliminate your customers’ objections, you can eliminate objections within your product development flow itself.
As Schijven advised, “Find and embrace well-meant criticism, as that will help you much more – although it may be difficult – than random applause. And then move forward together.”
If you can collaborate with your critics then you’ll be leaps ahead of competitors who wait until further along in the product cycle to understand who’s resistant, and why. So reach out early, be curious, and focus on who you’re trying to help.