On the Mend: Approaching Care with a Focus on the Human

Mongolia is the least densely populated country in the world. Twenty-five to 40 percent of its three million inhabitants are nomadic herders, traversing its 600,000 square miles in annual cycles to feed livestock. Herders have no permanent infrastructure, no buildings beyond canvas tents than can be moved in a week’s notice. Yet, Mongolia ranks 28th in the world for quality of palliative (end of life) care. In a country where many have no set neighbors and limited infrastructure, a society has learned to care for its most vulnerable people better than many static, and more economically advanced, cultures.

What makes Mongolia’s palliative care system, and other care practices, so successful? They’re not propelled by mobile hospitals or robotic nurses; rather, their success rests on teams of dedicated doctors, nurses, and staff who send mobile care kits to families, standardize resources across urban and rural facilities, and physically trek to remote patients. While success is supported by modern tools like mobile connectivity, geolocation, and device tracking, technology accomplishes nothing if not in the hands of dedicated caretakers.

Care is something that—unlike long-distance driving and reordering toilet paper—can’t be improved by replacing the human with a digital process. However, as the care and wellness market grows to over $3.2 billion, brands and technology providers are increasingly looking for the right way to enter. (To illustrate, 10 of the largest tech companies in the United States were involved in healthcare equity deals worth $2.7 billion in 2017.) Care has become a consumer priority and a business focus; yet, its top players will succeed not by taking the biggest piece of the pie, but by uplifting what humans can accomplish in caring for themselves and one another.

In this edition of W+K Lodge Frontiers, we explore what roles brands and technology providers can play to support and extend altruistic exchanges between loved ones, communities of support, healthcare environments, and even within ourselves. We’ll take a look at different fields of care and support—wellness, emotional and mental health, self-care, reproductive care, palliative care, and others—and apply creative ideation, UX studies, and design exercises to consider how brands can address prevalent challenges or unmet needs.

In all of this, we borrow from the example of Mongolia’s caretakers and view technology not as a replacement for the human touch, but as a resource to help us focus on the human. Technology emphasizes and serves what people do best — supporting and lifting each other up, and in so doing, bettering ourselves.

Illustration by Jocelyn Tsaih.