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Technology
Healthcare's 21st Century Renaissance
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by CATHY RICHTER

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We are just starting to see the impact of technological disruption and consumer demand on the healthcare industry.

Life in the 21st century is a speeding conveyer belt of disruption. It’s not just tech products being reimagined; entire categories have shifted, evolved, died, and been reinvented. Who knew the Jetsons would be so prescient? Consider that the world’s largest taxi business keeps no cars; the largest movie house has no cinemas; the largest accommodation company owns no real estate; and the largest media platforms create no content. Digital disruption enabled the rise of Uber, Netflix, Airbnb, and Facebook, and the pace of innovation is only accelerating. Further, the Apple store and Google Play each have 2 million Apps with new ones added daily. While it’s easy to see a clear path between tech companies and innovative offerings, what are other industries like healthcare doing in the wake of disruption?

Innovation curve

E.M. Rogers developed the Diffusion of Innovation (DOI) theory in 1962 to track the path of adoption of innovation across a marketplace or population. The theory is a way to describe how a product or concept gains early enthusiasts then spreads through a population at large. Early users of Facebook at Harvard were early adopters, for example. Now, we can track entire industries using that same model. Healthcare, like banking, is categorized as a legacy institution industry. These legacy institutions are saddled with extensive red tape, meaning strict laws and regulations, and what we call legacy thinking. The ‘we’ve always done it this way’ approach is often slow to adapt to disruption. It’s also hard to shift away from an inherited large back-end infrastructure, like in banking, to a more consumer-friendly format, like mobile. While banking is in the early majority phase, healthcare is behind-the eight ball at the innovator phase.

Gina Bleedorn, Adrenaline’s Chief Experience Officer, says, "In healthcare, we are just starting to see the impact of disruption. Going to a doctor's office today is very much the same as decades ago. We want it to be different, but it isn't... Yet. The fact is that healthcare has been slow to automate. Financial was too, but healthcare is even slower in using technology to automate tasks. Whether it’s mobile or fingerprint check-ins, patient portals or automatic bill pay, consumer expectation and demand will spur change. At this point, what’s holding healthcare back is the shifting infrastructure required to deploy innovations. Make no mistake, though, the forward-thinking healthcare systems are furiously working on this issue. If they don’t, disruption could wreak havoc on their institutions.”

“At this point, what’s holding healthcare back is the shifting infrastructure required to deploy innovations. Make no mistake, though, the forward-thinking healthcare systems are furiously working on this issue.”

Gina Bleedorn, Adrenaline's CXO

Healthcare comes from a history where power is concentrated at the top. In the past, money and health relationships were defined by in-person interactions with experts and consumers had little access to information. Then came the dot-com boom. The internet suddenly provided easy access to financial and medical information, enabling consumers and patients to be more informed and empowered – this resulted in a shifting balance of power. Consumers can now demand more from their financial and medical institutions – more personalized interactions, more convenience, more time with experts, and less red-tape. While consumers and patients are empowered by self-service and information access, they still need expert consultation to make smart, informed choices. The shift we see is that these relationships have become more collaborative, less authoritarian.

fin vs health

As we said in Healthcare In The Age Of Experience, the financial industry is a perfect role model for healthcare to study and emulate in terms of adaptation to change. With financial at the early adoption phase and healthcare at the innovation phase, what financial has done to personalize, customize and automate, can provide a roadmap for the healthcare industry to follow. While the need for a physical footprint in healthcare is still a pressing need and a fading one for financial, there are ways for healthcare to study what financial has done to automate the predictable aspects of their business. In the healthcare setting, there are things that every patient does, and healthcare systems are looking at ways to create efficiencies around those elements, just as financial did before them. 

So what’s next in healthcare? Bleedorn says, “Both financial and healthcare are very personal and complex. Both of them have a need for physical presence to some degree, but financial’s physical footprint is lessening as more goes virtual. Because healthcare still requires an examination, the need for physical presence remains quite high. Even that is changing with pop-up clinics in pharmacies and doc-in-a-boxes close to our homes and workplaces. No longer do patients have to wait for days for an appointment at the one office, but rather have several providers in convenient locations for simple issues like a cold. Consumers have demanded more convenience and the industry has responded by increasing options. But the minute a patient can start being examined or diagnosed virtually, all bets are off and the healthcare industry better be ready.” 

The bottom line is that technology innovation changes the way organizations are structured internally and externally. In a healthcare setting, you can see the tangible outcomes of innovation – modern amenities, fresh environments and thoughtful approach to the healthcare client journey in the physical space. So far though, the disruption to hit healthcare is solving for convenience rather than experience. Anyone who has gone to an in-store clinic for their flu shot will say that it was fast, but the rooms are dark and dingy. It feels like an addition, a small room in the back of a store, because it is. That’s all going to change as soon as healthcare systems focus more holistically on the patient experience. One healthcare system is already taking on that challenge, with Piedmont taking over Walgreen's clinics in Atlanta.


“So far though, the disruption to hit healthcare is solving for convenience rather than experience.”

We’re watching as major investments in healthcare innovation are taking place across the industry. One company, Kaiser Permanente, even created a venture capital arm to facilitate hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for the best ideas and advances. Kaiser has also rolled out tech tools for patients such as Apps for pregnant moms and pilot programs for remote or telehealth visits. Some of tech’s best minds are also diving in to help solve for healthcare’s problems. In fact, according to Fast Company, “For many entrepreneurs, the health sector offers an enticing opportunity – with strings attached. It’s an estimated $3 trillion market and is still dominated by a cadre of traditional players.” Understanding the need for innovation in a legacy industry, some outside the box thinking is just what the doctor ordered.

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