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, data of a limited or poor quality, a fragmented healthcare system, perverse financial incentives, the principal-agent problem in healthcare (where the users of healthcare are rarely the people actually paying for it) and more.
Despite all of these reasons why we haven’t seen a platform emerge, there is reason for hope. The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on how flawed our system is, an attempt at price transparency is coming 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-versus-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 of caring for patients’ needs.
A well-formulated platform that creates value by connecting patients to high-quality doctors would benefit all three parties. Take AirBnB for example: Its hosts and guests work together to meet mutual goals. Guests get a fair price on accommodations, and hosts make money on a 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 a bigger stakeholder in her family’s health and be empowered to make better decisions. This, in turn, is good for payers who want their patients to choose in-network options and avoid unnecessary, costly care.
Platforms Are Easy to Use
Another pitfall in 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 Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) 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 health problems that need a remedy. However, your biggest challenge in healthcare should be the problem you came in for, not the logistics you go through to receive care.
Platform technology can 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 AirBnB and transportation was changed by Uber, we foresee healthcare being changed by platform technology too.