On a recent visit to my physican, I found him using a laptop and keying in medical info as we consulted. He had finally been dragged, kicking and screaming, into the world of electronic medical records. I’ve been seeing him for 10 years, and never once did I see him record anything except on paper. This time, he not only keyed in everything online, but also sent an electronic prescription to my prescription benefits company so I don’t have to drive around and wait at a Walgreens to pick it up. Did he like the new toy ? I asked him. I hate it, was his response. He felt he was wasting his time entering medical info on a laptop when he could be cycling through more patients during the day and charging medicare and insurance for it. He has been forced to adopt it – the proverbial stick with which the hospital group he is affiliated to held over him.
In terms of healthcare innovation, electronic medical records is huge, and we will realize the benefits a good five to ten years down the road when all that info pipes seamlessly through the healthcare system. But wait: this is just the start. There are several disruptive innovators that are flipping the current model on its head. And it’s young entrepreneurs, often with no background in the industry, that are rewriting the rules.
Healthcare is teeming with start-up activity. For a sector that’s tied up in knots in old-school thinking, restrictive privacy laws, arrogant physicans, penny-pinching health insurance companies, and crappy technology – you have to wonder why. But it’s hard to look at how broken the system is and not see this as the opportunity of the century.
ZocDoc is a great example of a disruptive innovation in healthcare that disintermediates and creates a new market at the same time. Before ZocDoc came along, you would have to scroll through your insurance company website to find a provider listing and pick one based on limited info. With ZocDoc, you do the same but now you have additional features like the doctor’s calendar which allows you to choose a doctor that can meet you at short notice ( it’s not surprising the idea came about because one of the founders had trouble getting to a doctor for an emergency – a management consultant, he decided he had to find a solution, and here we are). ZocDoc is in 19 cities as I write this, and has over a million members.
The best disruptive ideas expand the size of the pie for everyone. In ZocDoc’s case, it increases patient traffic because it’s less painful to find a doctor and make an appointment, and at the same time it allows doctors to get out there and actively seek patients.
A further step to this innovation is already under way, with TelaDoc which eliminates the need for an office visit. You consult with a board-certified doctor on phone or video, no need for an office visit. Think of how empowering that is for patients – not to speak of how much waste it eliminates, in terms of lost time in getting an appointment, missing work to go to a doctor’s office, and worst of all – sit around reading backdated issues of Newsweek while a minimum-wage office assistant ignores you as the doctor squeezes in as many patients as possible. What’s next ? I can guess. You will soon be consulting a physician halfway across the world, paying a fifth of what you pay for an office visit today. It’s already happening today for major procedures – it’s called medical tourism.
These disruptors may well solve what Obamacare is struggling to solve – skyrocketing costs of healthcare and a great underbelly of 40 million uninsured and underinsured Americans who are a ticking time bomb for the entire system.
The next step to all this is eliminating friction in the payments system. I am waiting for the next Uber for healthcare. Get your payment info in one place, and sail in and out of office and hospital visits without having to go through insurance verification, copayment and all of that. That would be true democratization of healthcare services, and can go a long way in making it affordable, timely, and effective.
Not all disruptors will succeed of course. The early ones may actually flame out if they’re prematurely conceived or executed poorly. Think Google Health or Microsoft Amalga ( right idea, wrong timing, bad execution). But the ones that succeed are making the world a better place. Hope Microsoft Healthvault makes it. It’s time we took our own medical information out of our physican’s hands and found some other place to put it, from where we can access it any time, send it to anyone we like, anywhere we like. That’s the holy grail of personal healthcare data.