The Human Network Initiative
HNI is an interdisciplinary research center housed at Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Our ambition is broad: we want to change the way that healthcare is understood and practiced in America, by uncovering the central role that interpersonal networks play in our health and well being. The all too common default in medicine - viewing each patient’s body as a free-standing machine whose parts may or may not be in need of repair - is based on a set of modern assumptions that do not bear philosophical or empirical scrutiny.
" Our ambition is broad: we want to change the way that healthcare is understood and practiced in America "
The HNI is an outgrowth of the Dhand Lab, whose widely published research has shown that health outcomes are far better when patients are understood and treated as dynamic members of rich, complex, but precisely mappable networks. This reality is becoming increasingly undeniable. The 2015 County Health Review found that only 16% of overall patient outcomes, defined as length and quality of life, were attributable to the quality of clinical intervention. The remaining 84% of responsibility was shared among socioeconomic factors, health behaviors and environment, also known as the Social Determinants of Health.
" Uncovering the central role that interpersonal networks play "
Our program has two complementary prongs: firstly, we want to serve as the central hub for interdisciplinary conversations about community, isolation and well being in contemporary America. It is a large and increasingly urgent topic. The AARP found in 2010 that 40 percent of adults reported being lonely, up from 20% in the 1980’s. There are scattered efforts to understand and address this problem, ranging across policy, medicine, education, social science, investment and culture. We applaud these efforts, and believe that they would be well served by the convening of a central conversation. The stakes are high, and multipolar. It’s time to approach them with all of the resources at our disposal. The second prong is more practical. We want to be an incubator for new clinical interventions that can help healthcare providers to impact the massive swath of healthcare determinants that lie outside the scope of traditional clinical intervention. We want to heal networks along with patients’ bodies.
" The AARP found in 2010 that 40 percent of adults reported being lonely "
These patients, and our communities in general, stand to benefit a great deal if we are successful. We even dare to hope that as this desired change occurs, the massive cultural authority of the medical profession - this unique point where the immense edifice of modern science comes into contact with the most intimate human realities - will allow this communitarian shift to have ripple effects beyond the world of medicine. American society is woefully fragmented. American people are achingly lonely. One prominent version of the Hippocratic Oath includes the lines: “I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person's family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.” The medical profession’s forgetfulness of these truths is both a symptom and cause of American individualism, which is bearing bitter fruit in the form of growing social isolation. The Human Network Initiative is an attempt to begin the process of healing.
" I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth,
but a sick human being "
- Hippocratic Oath