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Saturday, March 06, 2010

Four New and Old Healthcare Ideas

by Rocco Tarasi

Four New and Old Healthcare IdeasThere are more innovations occurring in healthcare than anyone can count or keep track of, but I was particularly interested in these four - three that I've experienced personally and one that I've read about. They include a new product, a new pricing philosophy, a new business model, and a new distribution model.

  1. Getting closer to the famous 'Star Trek tricorder'
    • GE's new portable ultrasound puts an ultrasound machine in a doctor's pocket - about the size of a smartphone. According to an early-trial doctor, "Having Vscan at my disposal at all times has allowed me to use ultrasound in a number of settings and with patients that I wouldn't have anticipated before." This isn't just a better ultrasound - in fact its probably worse, as the images are not as good as traditional machines. But it's now-portable capabilities mean it can be used to diagnose problems that doctors wouldn't have used ultrasound for before.

  2. Wallet-busting ER fees
    • When we renewed our company-provided health insurance, the co-pay for emergency room visits jumped from $50 to $250. My reaction to that 400% price increase wasn't outrage but rather, 'good idea'. Part of the reason that ERs are clogged is because there isn't much disincentive from going. Increasing the price might be able to influence user behavior to either look for alternatives or to more critically evaluate whether the ER trip is necessary. Which leads to our next innovation...

  3. More ER alternatives
    • I've used services like MedExpress before when I couldn't see my regular doctor, but I recently received a letter from my physician, who is part of a UPMC's medical juggernaut, that UPMC was opening its own off-hours clinic for nights and weekends when your normal doctor's office is closed. Apparently they've realized that people don't just get sick during business hours. Given the increase in my ER co-pays, this new service is a great alternative.

  4. Pediatricians from the horse-and-buggy era
    • When we took our one-year old to the ER for last year, we waited 7 hours before we saw a doctor. While his injury fortunately wasn't critical (and he pretty much slept the entire time), we saw countless other kids sick or injured and in obvious pain stuck in the waiting room for hours. One little girl with a dislocated elbow was in the waiting room for over 2 hours. If you are willing to spend the money, there are some pediatricians that don't maintain offices but instead visit your house - or the ER - whenever you need them. Like the old days, I guess. They limit the number of patients they attend to, and charge a not-inexpensive fee per month per child, on top of what you pay for insurance. But for those with the money to spend - and if your kids are prone to injury - this can be well worth the price.

It is interesting to look at these types of innovations in the big picture. Several target the choke points like the ER, where a combination of alternatives and incentives serve to move the delivery of healthcare elsewhere. New products like GE's pocket ultrasound disrupt other chokepoints inside the hospital, offering immediate results from your exam room without needing to travel to another department. These are the business model changes and disruptive products that will make the most difference in improving healthcare.

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Rocco TarasiRocco Tarasi was an accountant, investment banker, and CFO before becoming a technology entrepreneur. He writes about innovation at www.InnovationMinute.com with a focus on "everyday" innovations in business models, sales strategies, products and services.

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