Independent ≠ Alone

Sigvard Bore

During the early stages of HealthIO, we met with many representatives of our target user segments – baby boomers, active elderly, veterans, etc. – and received a common answer to the question: “Whose responsibility is it to manage your health & wellness?” Almost without fail, the answer was, “Mine, and mine alone.”

On the surface, this may seem like an empowered answer. However, peeling back the layers reveals that this is an unintended consequence of "being independent" in modern society. Why does being “independent” mean that one must do everything "alone"?

A little more than 40 years ago, the family demographic was different:

  • Most multi-generational family members lived relatively close, often not separated by more than neighborhoods or neighboring towns

  • Most people regularly interacted with their neighbors

  • Social interactions were predominately in-person, and the remaining mostly by phone (letters were already declining)

  • Family doctors made house calls

  • Institutional healthcare was focused on sick-care – wait for something to break, then fix or alleviate symptoms

  • Pharmaceutical expansion was well underway

Contrast the above with today’s family demographic:

  • Family members often live nowhere near other family members once they reach adulthood, separated not just by neighborhoods but by cities, states, and even countries

  • Regular interactions with neighbors have dramatically declined, and many have never interacted with neighbors even once

  • Social interactions are predominately digital

  • Family doctors don’t make house calls, and are instead pressured to see more patients faster in any given day

  • Institutional healthcare is still primarily focused on sick-care

  • Pharmaceutical explosion (mostly focused on symptom relief, few outright cures) – “There’s a pill for that!”

With these trends in mind, it is not a stretch to see how the unintended consequence has come to be: geographic separation from those we most trust, coupled with less in-person interactions with friends & neighbors, being inundated with messages of doing things on your own, or worse with messages that claim “you don’t need anyone to…” It almost seems inevitable that people will start to think they NEED to handle their health and wellness entirely on their own… So, given that these trends are likely not to change anytime soon, what can undo this mindset?

Managing our health is likely the biggest long-term challenge any of us will face – it never ends, it usually only gets more difficult over time, and failing to do so has the most severe consequences. Consider some other major challenges: building a business, competing at the highest levels in athletics, or running a charity. Although completely different in objectives, these challenges share a common reality: all require a team of folks working together with a common objective! Why would we ignore this common sense when it comes to our own health management challenge?

So, what is a more appropriate view of being “independent” when managing our health? First, accept help from people who already care (family, friends, nurses, doctors, caregivers, social workers, etc.). Second, accept that help can take many forms without compromising independence at all:

  1. Developing and updating care management plan

  2. Staying motivated & on track

  3. Transportation & logistics (getting prescriptions, making appointments, etc.)

  4. Exercise & recreation

  5. Providing a shoulder to lean on

Regardless of geographic separation, the reality is that unless someone is a hermit with absolutely no friends or family, no one is truly alone when it comes to managing their health and wellness. People are often desperate to find ways to “do more” to help cared ones manage their health, but just don’t know how. Furthermore, the understanding of “independence” needs to be about who is in charge or quarterbacking a health management effort, which can include a whole team of folks. Lastly, given further digital proliferation, we need to find a way to reconnect the best attributes of the past with new technologies, removing geographic barriers through digital bridges (solutions like HealthIO do exactly that!) … In conclusion, Independent doe NOT have to mean Alone!