Atul Gawande: "People talking to people is still how the world's standards change."

Atul Gawande: "People talking to people is still how the world's standards change."

Promoting slow-to-catch-on health innovations one person at a time

With health innovations that are slow to catch on, it may be best to promote them person-to-person. In an article published online July 22, 2013 in the New Yorker, Atul Gawande, professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Harvard School of Public Health, discussed efforts to spread safe childbirth practices— which are known to many health care workers but are often not used—through face-to-face mentoring in India under the Better-Birth Project, a collaboration involving the Indian government, the World Health Organization, the Gates Foundation, and Population Services International.

Gawande noted that health workers sometimes resist the introduction of new practices because they can be tedious or cumbersome to implement and because they can’t always see the results of their efforts. And providing health care workers with videos and training manuals often doesn’t change their behavior.

“In the era of the iPhone, Facebook, and Twitter, we’ve become enamored of ideas that spread as effortlessly as ether,” Gawande wrote. “We want frictionless, ‘turnkey’ solutions to the major difficulties of the world—hunger, disease, poverty. We prefer instructional videos to teachers, drones to troops, incentives to institutions.” He said that such “low-touch” efforts may not be enough to change norms. “People talking to people is still how the world’s standards change,” he wrote.

Read the New Yorker article

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