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Can there be a Facebook, Whatsapp, Twitter or Uber Unicorn in Healthcare?

February 26,2016

No one can predict what application or new technology or “my silly cat” YouTube video will go viral. But one thing you can predict with some certainty is that nothing in healthcare will go viral.

In an industry overwhelmed by meaningful use, ACOs, penalties and regulations, there is a general reluctance to integrate something new if it's perceived as one more thing to learn and do, even if there's clear benefits. Changing the status quo in healthcare is like trying to change a tire on a moving car. Things don't go viral in healthcare. They go bacterial. Slow and steady. (1)

The slow and steady mentality is also fueled by turf battles. The main roadblock to innovation in healthcare is not the limits of human imagination and creativity; it is how a complex system has grown up in which most players have incentives for keeping their piece intact while hoping to seize a piece from someone else. Lack of consensus among players in endlessly growing hospital bureaucracies is an enormous barrier to innovation. One subgroup's innovation is another subgroup's loss of control (2)   Stakeholders with various opinions and agendas necessitates that there be meeting after meeting to reach agreement, often at the expense of a window of opportunity. Decisions take forever, if they're even ever made. 

The consolidation climate in healthcare today also impedes innovation. Competition is the catalyst for innovation. With extensive local and regional acquisitions by health systems resulting in a single entity having a corner on the market, innovation suffers. Competition increases awareness of a product or service. Without competition the dominant player will determine the products and services offered rather than the market forces, and that might mean that innovative solutions take a back seat. 

For-profit investor owned acquisitions present another set of challenges. Decisions which were once made by local hospital leadership with a sensitivity to the community's culture are now being made by out-of-town corporations which do not necessarily translate into affordable community contracts and management systems. One size does not fit all. What works in a big city like Pittsburgh might not work in a small town like Pocatello.

Maybe healthcare needs a dose of its own anti-bacterial medication. Invest in and leverage technology at a local or regional level that will make patient care better, faster and cheaper and hospitals more profitable by improving efficiency and reducing costs. Slow and steady may not be the wonder drug it once was thought to be.  

Dana Allison

Chief Operating Officer

IM Your Doc

(1)  Interview with Jordan Shlain, MD, HealthLoop

(2) Harvard Business Review, “Why Innovation is So Hard in Healthcare-and How To Do It Anyway”, February, 2011