Shop & Click Healthcare–Is It Really That Difficult?

Do you find the process of pairing buyers and sellers using Craigslist or Angie’s List easy?

I just upgraded my treadmill using Craigslist. I knew what model I wanted and all I had to do was find someone who was selling that model. And bingo; new treadmill. I went back to Craigslist to see if I could find someone willing to run on my new treadmill, but that did not work as well.

It occurred to me that the reason it is so easy to match buyers with sellers is because that is what the site was designed to do. EBay does the same thing, millions of times each week. Oh, and did I mention Amazon?

The business models for all of these organizations were designed. At some point a group of people drinking lattes gathered around a table and had a conversation that went something like this:

“We want to sell stuff. And to do that we need two things; stuff and people.”

“We don’t even need to own any of the stuff. We could just find someone who wants to sell something, and then find someone who wants to buy it, and we are done.”

“That is way too complex. Why do we have to find them? What if we simply enabled them to find each other? I see it happening along the lines of what happens when someone calls someone else. The phone company simply does a handoff. We should do that. Let’s say some guy in Iowa has a ’32 Chevy in his barn, and somebody in Arizona wants a ’32 Chevy. All we have to do is enable the guy in Arizona to find the guy in Iowa.”

And so they did.

EBay makes millions and millions of connections of buyers to sellers around the world.

Healthcare, on the other hand, has untold difficulty connecting one consumer to a single physician even though the two are only separated by a few miles. The consumer’s thought process is something like this:

“I have a phone. I bet the doctor has a phone. I will call and schedule an appointment.” Not so fast Skippy.

When that fails, and fail it will, the consumer thinks, “I have a computer. I bet the doctor has a computer. I will go online and make an appointment.” Not so fast Skippy.

I had dinner Saturday night with a member of the board of a very large health system in Philadelphia. She told me she had purchased her healthcare through the institution she served. She then said that she had a lot of difficulty recently making an appointment, and that after several attempts she now goes to another provider. (This is the same institution for which another of their board members told me, ‘We do not have customers, we have patients.” To which I replied, ‘Pretty soon you won’t have either.)

Health systems never bothered to think about designing how to put buyers and sellers together. ‘We are not in that business.” You most certainly are not. But you should be.

On a lark, I called a large New England health system to try to schedule an appointment with a pediatric orthopedist. I was not successful in my endeavor. I was told they did not have an orthopedist at the children’s hospital. I was not told that the health system had 181 orthopedists among their other facilities.

Suppose your doctor referred you to Dr. Joe, orthopedist at said health system. You call for an appointment, only to learn that the soonest Dr. Joe can see you is in eight weeks. A reasonable person will book the appointment, and then that person will call another health system trying to be seen sooner. What would it have taken for the health system to say, “Dr. Joe is booked, but Dr. Sally, one of our other 181 orthopedists could see you this afternoon?”

There are two groups of thought leaders on this issue. One group believes they should be able to go online, and get access to the care they want when they want it. The other group either does not think this way, or they simply have no idea that people cannot get easy access to their services.

This would seem to be a good solution to the problem of missed and canceled appointments. It would seem to be a good way to manage capacity. But then, what do I know?

Shop and click healthcare. It is really not that difficult. Unless you make it difficult.

It is easy to say, we are in the business of making people better; we are not in the business of connecting buyers and sellers.

Maybe the time has come to rethink what business you should be in.

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