How platform technology can make healthcare not suck

July 16, 2020
Steven Cutbirth

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Platforms have revolutionized nearly every industry and even created new ones. Don’t believe me? Consider these examples: Facebook, AirBnB, Amazon, Google, Uber, iTunes, OpenTable, and the list goes on and on. Odds are you’ve used at least one of these today.

All are platform companies that connected, or improved the connection between, producers and users in order to create value and leverage network effects (the more users, the more value to everyone involved.)

Why don’t we have a great and powerful platform in healthcare that does the same? Well the list of reasons why it hasn’t happened is quite long: Opaque healthcare costs, very limited quality or outcomes data, a fragmented healthcare system, perverse financial incentives, the principal-agent problem in healthcare (the users of healthcare are rarely the people actually paying for it) and more.

Despite all of the reasons we haven’t seen a platform emerge, there is reason for hope. The COVID pandemic is shining a light on how flawed our system is, price transparency is coming (kind of) thanks to new HHS rules, and things are starting to change. It’s time we consider how digital platforms could make healthcare not suck, or at least suck less!

Platforms create valuable partnerships.

One of the biggest issues with healthcare is the “us vs them” mentality we see between stakeholders, particularly providers, patients, and payers. Due to regulations and economic incentives, these groups are often at odds with each other even though they have the same end goal: caring for patient’s needs.  

A well formulated platform that creates value by connecting patients to high quality doctors would benefit all three parties. Take AirBnB for example, their hosts and guests work together to meet mutual goals. Guests get fair priced accommodations and hosts make money on property that would otherwise be vacant. The platform just facilitates the transaction and ensures quality. If this same concept were applied to healthcare, enabling providers, patients, and payers to partner (try saying that three times fast) there would certainly be positive value created for all parties.  

Platforms encourage competition.

Platform competition requires treating buyers and suppliers not as separate threats, but as value-creating partners to be encouraged to play multiple roles. We’re not saying that Mrs. Jones is now going to be able to be the doctor for her family, but what we are saying is that now she can be more responsible for her health and make better decisions.  This in turn is good for payers, who want their patients to choose in-network options and avoid unnecessary, costly care.

Ease of use.

Another pitfall to healthcare is that it’s confusing to not only patients, but those within the industry too. If you ask a hospital or health insurer why they utilize a certain protocol or system, it’s not uncommon to hear “that’s what has always been used,” as the answer. Healthcare has an issue with clinging to the status quo like it’s the only flotation device in the middle of an ocean. Unfortunately, the status quos in healthcare can be complicated and inefficient.  

Platform technology could potentially streamline patient experiences, reporting, scheduling, and even payment processing. It even has the potential to be a user-friendly application for patients and allow them to directly communicate with their provider and payer. We have started to see some of these tools become reality, but work must be done to ensure they talk to each other and don’t lead to a digital platform version of our fragmented system. Newer standards like FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources) are being implemented that enable platforms to exchange health information securely so systems will talk to each other.

A world of possibility.

Real progress has been made via technology in the industries that choose to embrace it. Platform technology is one way to create a healthcare experience that doesn’t completely suck. Will healthcare ever be fun? No, probably not, because the reason we seek healthcare is generally for a health problem that needs a remedy. However, your biggest problem in healthcare should be the problem you came in for, not the experience you go through to get care.  

Platform technology can be implemented to alleviate some of the anxiety patients have when they need medical care and can make the lives of people working in healthcare easier. Just as the hospitality industry was forever changed by AirBnBand transportation was changed by Uber, we foresee healthcare being changed by platform technology too.

For more reading on digital platforms, I would highly recommend you read anything from Geoff Parker, he literally wrote the book on platforms.

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