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Are You Ready to Practice Commoditycare?


Commoditycare is coming. To distinguish yourself, you will need to innovate and avoid the traps driving your competitors. Patients and payers will be watching you and voting with their wallets.

Imitation and commoditization in retail products and services has become the norm and it’s getting harder and harder to stand out in the mind of customers. Despite enormous advertising budgets, slick marketing, viral social media campaigns, and hype, most product improvement is incremental with very little real innovation. Similarly, while there are presently big variations in care, the drive to healthcare commoditization is moving relentlessly to Commoditycare. Commoditycare, i.e., the commoditization of healthcare products and services, will be the result of ongoing attempts to minimize variations in both inputs and outputs using best practices, evidence-based protocols, and analytics derived from data generated from large populations of patients and making the results transparent to patients and payers.

There are 10 main drivers of Commoditycare:

1. The internationalization of care. People, money, doctors, and technologies, be they drugs, devices, digital health products, or innovative business processes, are seamlessly moving around the world, facilitated by cheap, inexpensive information and communications technologies and cheap transportation.

2. Global innovation. Entrepreneurs are creating products and services in the smallest places to the biggest clusters, driven by community-based innovation networks. The results are commoditized healthcare products.

3. Transparency. Data creates value and making that data transparent drives commoditization and revenues to the winners. Package pricing, EMR information sharing, and outcomes repositories are 3 examples of how international patients and payers can find those who are separating themselves from the crowd.

4. Consumerization. The power has shifted from the caregivers to the patients. Shared decision-making, particularly for preference-sensitive conditions, has replaced the paternalistic, doctor-driven care model.

5. DIY (Do-It-Yourself) medicine. Patients now have access to information, products, and services affording them the ability to diagnose and treat themselves. Examples include more and more over the counter medicine, online and home based diagnostic tests, and digital health products that have disintermediated care providers and replaced high-priced, difficult-to-access products with cheap, easy-to-use ones.

6. Standardization of care and outcomes driven by value. Variations in care inputs that result in little or no difference in outputs results in waste, complications, side effects, and cost. Evidence-based protocols and care models are increasingly addressing those variations in an effort to minimize unacceptable deviations from the norm.

7. Cheap startup costs. It has never been easier or cheaper to start a company, particularly in digital health. As a result, we are seeing a plethora of startup companies plying their wares to an international market of patients seeking access to high quality care at an affordable price.

8. The death of loyalty. Patients are becoming increasingly satisfied with “good enough” when it comes to quality and are willing to sacrifice loyalty to a doctor or product to get it. They are placing increasing importance on non-quality value factors like access, speed, experience, service, and price.

9. Competition. Hospitals are turning into systems and consolidating to take advantage of economies of scale and the reduced cost of streamlined back end business processes. Care channel substitutes, like retail-based clinics, are creating the “retailization” of healthcare, further threatening the office-based primary care model. Telemedicine platforms can deliver iCare at the push of a button or the click of a mouse.

10. The failure of companies and doctors to innovate. Few doctors or hospitals have an entrepreneurial mindset. Instead of innovating, they tinker. Oren Hariri, in his book, Break from the Pack, cited 10 reasons why companies create mediocre, me-too, commoditized products. They have a compulsion to cut costs, to cut prices, to make incremental improvements, to increase sales and marketing budgets, to grow from quarter to quarter, to control growth, to rely on unreliable market research and focus groups, to join the crowd and embrace fads, to protect their businesses with legal and accounting gimmicks, and to give the impression that they are generating progress, not value.

Commoditycare is coming quickly to your neighborhood. To distinguish yourself and be the best of the rest, you will need to innovate and avoid the traps driving your competitors. Patients and payers will be watching you and voting with their wallets.

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Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice
Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice