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Bifurcated Sick-Care Digital Disruption


Everyone wants to disrupt sick care. Those who try face unique challenges.


Everyone wants to disrupt sick care. We are all, quite literally, sick of dysfunctional systems; poor patient-customer service; stupid, erroneous bills filled with inflated, mysterious prices and miscodes; and medical errors due to poor handoffs and miscommunications.

Here is what disruptive sick care would look like.

On the one hand, most of us welcome automated and digital business processes to sick care. On the other hand, we still want to preserve the personalized and high-touch approach when it comes to actually seeing our doctor or non-MD provider.

A recent blog post suggests four questions you should ask to evaluate whether your industry is ready for digital disruption. In my view, sick-care delivery should be considered separately from sick-care business processes.

Here are my answers to the four questions and how digitization applies to both sick-care delivery and sick-care business processes:

1. “Can the product or customer experience be digitized with little or no negative impact on customer satisfaction?” Sick-care delivery suffers when technology overwhelms the personal touch and, in many instances, the care experience suffers. On the other hand, automating and digitizing what happens before and after the visit is an enormous opportunity for improvement.

2. “Is the existing customer experience inconvenient, slow, uneconomic, or unrewarding?” Yes. Long waiting times, faulty billing, poor patient customer service, and products and services that simply don't make doctors more effective or efficient or help patients get better are part of the digital snake oil mentality pervading and perplexing sick care.

3. “Would digitization or automation substantially undercut the cost model of the traditional business?” Yes. Administrivia is killing independent practices, contributes to burnout, and distracts doctors from being doctors.

4. “What barriers to entry exist and how solid are they really?” Perhaps no other industry has as many barriers to entry, hurdles to cross, and difficulties to overcome when it comes to adoption and penetration of a new product or service. The stakes for incumbents preventing new entrants are enormous; the medical education and medical-industrial culture blocks entrepreneurial thinking and political and market forces are engaged in a quotidian struggle to maintain the status quo and profit margins.

So, is sick care ready for digital disruption? Those companies that are likely to fall due to disruptive digitization are in business processes, education and training, communications and information management, marketing and care delivery business models supported by data science techniques, and analytics.

Digitizing direct patient care via robotics, avatars, personal care assistants, and telemedicine is another story. Changing the traditional doctor-patient relationship, like any long-term relationship that comes to an end, causes a lot of pain.

Automating sick-care business processes and new business models have the potential to cut the costs of care with little or no impact on patient-customer satisfaction. Videogame medicine creates push back from patients and doctors. You choose.

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Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice
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