In Silicon Valley, the concept of friction is the idea that you must remove every bit of inconvenience or work that gets in the way of a digital interaction. It’s about making things as easy as possible to get done. I’ve been thinking about friction in healthcare.

This whole idea of better, faster, and frictionless has made its way into healthcare. It seems every application and platform is working to create the seamless experience of moving from sick to healthy with the push of a button. Virtual first healthcare wants to shape care as an end-to-end online experience in which you don’t have to leave your sofa. Text-based communication allows us to access professional input at the speed of now.

But it isn’t that simple. The format or platform that we use for engagement with patients should depend on the kind of care they need. And this is where Silicon Valley has missed how medicine works at the ground level. We have transactional encounters and those that involve deeper, perhaps more critical conversation. While refilling a medication should be as frictionless as possible, an encounter around the new diagnosis of Crohn’s disease is far more involved. So, minimizing friction in the Silicon Valley sense should be the furthest thing from our mind in this second case.

Of course, many of these new transactional tools offer channels of communication and access to care that wasn’t available before. But, sometimes, a careful connection and a little bit of friction trumps convenience.

The idea of intentional friction in healthcare and taking more time in clinical encounters has spawned the slow medicine movement. More of a rally cry to humanize the decay of the traditional office visit, slow medicine is a vision for visit design that prioritizes the needs of humans. The idea and spirit of slow medicine sits in stark relief against Silicon Valley’s drive to shape a homogenized Uber-like healthcare experience.

I’m raising the idea that we need to consider the way human care should happen rather than how we can make it look like a consumer transaction. A few things to think about:

  • Think about where friction needs to be designed into the healthcare encounter.
  • What transactions really should be deeper experiences, be it in healthcare or other parts of our lives?
  • In your own life, how can you intentionally look for ways to add friction? When did you take the long route or “lose” your map?

Friction can be good. Friction in healthcare can be good. It can keep us connected and thinking. It lets us be part of the process we’re involved with, whether it be coming home from a college visit, using paper to outline a newsletter, or connecting with a patient.

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