The Downside Of Healthcare Innovation

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If you want to buy a pair of shoes, you can go to a stand-alone shoe store, to a discount shoe store, a department store with a shoe department, a big-box Superstore, like Wal-Mart that sells a little bit of everything, including shoes, or go online and search thousands of online sites that sell shoes. You could go to a thrift shop, a yard sale….well, you get the picture. At each of those outlets, you’d find a wealth of information, including the price. It’s easy to comparison shop for shoes when there is so much data available.


Shoes are pretty important items, but not as important as making the right choice when choosing healthcare. Healthcare is expensive and, without the right kind of information to compare providers, the outcome could be life-altering. When shopping went online, competition increased and in some cases, price went down. Innovative healthcare companies are moving their services online as well, but as healthcare providers are finding out, it’s not as easy as selling shoes. In fact, to some it is downright frustrating. In a Forbes article, “Why It Stinks To Be A Healthcare Entrepreneur,” Jonathon Bush, CEO of AthenaHealth, shared the roadblocks he encountered while moving his medical practice billing business to the cloud. 


While technically innovative companies have the systems and software to move services online, doctor’s offices and their systems often lag far behind. Doctor’s offices often use outdated processes and communications tools, like fax machines. Need some test results or communication with other doctors, hospitals or pharmacies? It’s easier to take a paper report and stick it upside down in a fax machine, punch in a phone number and listen to the distinctive sound of the phone making the connection. A “click" and the papers start to feed. A lot of information in a doctor’s office isn’t digital. And until it is, getting it to the cloud will take a major conversion process, new hardware and software, and a lot of staff training.


Healthcare is highly regulated, with programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and regulations like HIPPA, Workers Compensation and COBRA. Add in The Affordable Care Act, and entrepreneurs can get hobbled by restrictive regulations, mountains of procedures and more hoops to jump through than a circus act. The regulations can change quickly, and vary with the size and type of company and industry. Individual states throw in more regulations just to make things interesting.


Bush says selling is a “five-letter-word” because doctors, who are mostly inaccessible and swamped, are the buyers. They are also employees, working for hospitals who aren’t interested in their doctors shopping around for better pricing or innovative new systems and processes. What’s worse, the same procedure can vary widely in price in the same practice area. Without active competition and the ability to make buying decisions, doctors are tied to a hospital and their approved resources for testing facilities, labs and a course of treatment.


Bush predicts that innovative healthcare entrepreneurs like himself need to cause disruption in the status quo to make changes. Of course, he would like to increase his company’s market share in online medical billing services. But more than that, he’d like to expand the opportunity for consumers to shop for healthcare much like they do with shoes. Find the right style and fit at the best price available.


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