Innovation & Design

How to Redesign Health Care


The health-care system in the U.S. is a mess. But that doesn't mean there aren't opportunities, argues Dr. Jay Parkinson

It currently costs employers, on average, nearly $11,000 per year per employee for health insurance. In 2019, it's going to cost $28,000. That means the 90% of Americans who have few medical needs every year will soon be paying $28,000 a year for the privilege. This is insane. Going to the doctor, having routine surgery, buying bulk medications online—all could be radically reinvented with the application of one type of medicine: designed disruptive innovation. Combining the principles of disruptive innovation with design thinking is exactly what health care in America needs. We need to disrupt the current business model of health-care delivery. And we need these disruptions to be designed experiences that are consumer-focused. Imagine: a health-care experience truly on par with a visit to the Apple (AAPL) Genius Bar or buying a book from Amazon.com (AMZN). But as executives at those two companies know, elegant experiences don't just happen. They are designed from the ground up to ensure an enjoyable interaction every time. Smart, forward-thinking companies should start applying these same principles to health care. Established brands or even companies that aren't currently in the health industry should design the future health experience today, delighting customers with innovative services and products that optimize health and happiness. These companies will be the big winners of tomorrow's health-care system. Here's how a design process can help them get there: Define the Problem Today's health-care delivery processes are unpleasant for multiple reasons. Patients aren't the real customers; insurance companies are. Doctors profit from sickness. Most importantly, the fee-for-service business model values quantity over quality. When doctors are paid for the frequency of illness and treatments in an aging population, health care will inevitably become more expensive—until eventually it becomes financially out of reach for many consumers. Reframe the Problem As premiums for traditional insurance skyrocket, consumers will look for more affordable options. The 90% of Americans who don't need serious, complex care will turn to high deductible health plans (HDHPs) and learn to pay their own way. That's 270 million people and some serious buying power: well more than $750 billion a year within the next 10 years. Companies that help consumers spend their money wisely will win. Because guess what?—these consumers will learn to think carefully about what they're buying. Are they going to pay their own cash for the same tired health experience of today? Would you? I know I'd be angry paying $200 for the anxiety of an eight minute visit to a doctor's office that wasted most of my working day or $15,000 for a routine hernia repair carried out in the opaque abyss of a large institution. As the balance of power shifts back to the patient, the opportunity to provide a well-designed experience is also an opportunity to tap into this new market. For instance, I would pay $2,500 to have that hernia repaired in a highly focused, beautifully designed outpatient surgery center. I would also pay for affordable iPhone apps that let me know if my health is worsening and connect me to professionals who can prevent expensive problems down the line. I would pay for a robot that helps me live on my own rather than in an exorbitantly priced nursing home. Thinking differently about how to approach the field of health care could lead to exciting, radically different solutions. Try Something Now Time and time again, people pay for a designed experience that makes their lives better. So how about creating a Starbucks (SBUX) of urgent care? Would patients use it? I think so. The health industry should take lessons from retail. Build scalable service experiences that people love. Learn from the "positive deviants" who are experimenting outside the current business models to come up with new ideas. Design a health insurance product akin to AppleCare, the customer service guarantee offered by Apple. Create an open source, online platform for communication, payments, and secure medical records that connects my robot, my biometric monitor (like the new Fitbit), and my calorie-tracking iPhone app (like Daily Burn) with professionals who can help me stay on top of my health and my health care-related finances. People would search out services that connect to the platform knowing that a quality experience stems from data-driven, personalized solutions. And pay doctors a bit more to join these experimental groups. After all, doctor salaries are only about 10% of total health-care costs. Everyone needs to be on board. And everyone needs to keep pushing. Iterate like hell, and improve all the time. Most importantly, don't meddle within traditional health care. That's the biggest mess imaginable. Differentiate and go straight after the cash-paying consumer with elegant experiences that are human-centric, simple, data-driven, and connected to the platform. Create a network of effective, convenient solutions for simple problems. Meet 90% of the health needs of 90% of the people. Disrupt health care with design. Is it easy? No. Is it do-able? Let's hope so.

Jay Parkinson, MD, launched the online healthcare service, Hello Health, in 2008. More recently he co-founded innovation firm, The Future Well, to design services and products that create health and happiness.

Steve Ballmer, Power Forward
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