Authority Redefined in Search of Personal Responsibility

Appearing in Loyalty360,org, March 1, 2018

A recent cover story by the Economist, titled “Doctor You,” paints a vivid picture of the future of healthcare. In that future, patients will be using digital tools to self-diagnose their conditions and may be using physicians more as validation points and treatment-execution vehicles. This change in the role of physicians will represent a major shift in the role of a medical doctor with wide repercussions to the healthcare industry. A wide spectrum of questions arise from this possible future, chief among them is “who will be held accountable for the diagnosis and treatment?” (Is this the end of medical malpractice law now that all individuals are their own physicians?)

Other questions may include:

  1. Would insurance companies cover self-diagnosis? (It might create a justification to raise the rates for hypochondriac patients)
  2. Would physicians refuse to conduct treatment they don’t believe in, or would they emerge as practitioners who do not hold an opinion in their practice (like a tattoo artist who will ink you with any tattoo message you want)?
  3. Would patients feel confident enough to self-diagnose or would they still lean heavily on humans to tell them what is good for them as opposed to a big-data “Dr. Know-It-All,” who will guide them through the process? (Some of you will guess that boomers may still default to traditional healthcare while millennials will explore the “I am my own doctor” model.)

While the future of healthcare is still unknown and the excitement of the empowerment delivered by big data and analytics probably overhyped, the trend is quite clear. Individuals are increasingly taking authority away from traditional sources, such as physicians, mechanics, professors, clergypeople, and even parents, and instead, are creating their own new path to authority. They become their own authority. And their path to knowledge is not based on traditional methods of learning from more established sources of authority. It is personal experiences that guide their path to knowledge and authority. And if this path is not all inclusive but rather partial and subjective, that is ok with them.

But personal authority, while appealing at first comes with a price. The price of personal authority is not limited only to the higher possibility of making mistakes. This is a built-in flaw in the new personal authority model. When a person declares ultimate expertise in everything, it is likely that he is an expert in nothing (or close to it). The probability of making mistakes grows exponentially with the limited knowledge you have per decision you make. Additionally, the inherently subjective nature or personal bias you have will make your personal authority decision far less effective and impactful. In short, you may make decisions that seem right for you but simply are not.

The biggest price of them all is simply personal responsibility. You can no longer blame anyone else for your mistakes. That might be bad news for the growing army of psychologists out there who help people sort out their blame game in the world. Self-authority comes with the requirement to own your decision. You are now the only one who can be blamed for your mistakes. Declining help is also declining knowledge, support, and shared responsibility.

Is the emerging world of self-authority ready to assume the responsibility that is coming its way? I doubt it. I am afraid that is due to a self-correction movement, where being empowered with knowledge through sophisticated technologies will not automatically equate to the willingness to own the decision and its implementation. We will wake up one day to recognize that just because we can does not mean we should. And just because that data is there does not mean we know how to correctly activate it.

We need to own the change that is coming our way, but we need to be smart about it. No one can be an expert in everything, even if it relates to their own body or financial affairs. As for me, I will continue to Google stuff, but I will let my doctor be the authority in what he knows best. I will stick to my strengths.


Lior Arussy is the CEO of Strativity, a global customer experience transformation and culture design firm.  His upcoming book is Next is Now! (Simon and Schuster May 2018)