Saturday, May 9, 2015

Is the smartphone the new doctor for physician independence?

The healthcare consumer will shell out $345 billion dollars this year for health insurance, co-payments and deductibles. On top of that they will spend another $271 billion on health related items like gyms memberships, weight lose programs, exercise equipment etc. That's a whopping $626 billion dollars out-of-pocket that is expected to rise for the foreseeable future.

The healthcare consumer and patient are demanding value, price and quality transparency from healthcare providers. Consumer's want retail medicine, mHealth and telemedicine. All the while healthcare providers focus on market dominance and acquire physician practices to create market heft and then wonder why consumers are cranky?

With all of this happening then, is the smartphone the new doctor? And, can the use of apps, mHealth and telemedicine allow a physician or physician group practice to remain independent? In both cases I think the answer is yes, with some pretty large ramifications for healthcare marketing as well.

First let’s think about the independent practitioner, primary care group or multi-specialty group. Here is a story to illustrate my point. 

Some of you may remember a time when there were corner grocery stores.  Little mom and pop operations located in quite neighborhoods before the advent of the big box grocery chains.

Then it appears as if overnight, the big box national and regional grocery chains take over for our food dollar. We all heard the doom, gloom and prophecy of the demise of those little mom and pop stores. Sure they are gone from the corner in the quite neighborhood; but guess what, they are still around today and have been for a very long time.  Though the form is different, those little mom and pop operations are now the 7-Elevens, White Hen Pantry’s and AM PM Minimarts for example.
Mom and pop operations competing very well against the big box grocery chains on convenience, accessibility, experience, engagement and  sometimes even price.

I am not saying that physicians are grocery stores but the lesson is apparent.  But before everyone calls the independent physician or unaffiliated group practice a thing of the past, one needs to review recent history in other markets for potential lessons of survival.  Technology, innovation and meeting the needs of the healthcare consumer, experience and engagement will keep the independent physician a reality.

This brings me to the second point. There are no paid product endorsements here.

I became aware of these two apps, one via a mention in a Wall Street Journal article and the other from one of my Twitter followers, Dr. Howard Green, a dermatologist with an innovative bent and startup company.  But these two apps caught my eye and illustrate the smartphone as the new doctor idea out of the thousands that are available. And that idea is more literal than anything else.

First is Heal.  It’s only in the Los Angeles and San Francisco market, but I could really see it working nationwide. Basically, using the app on the smartphone you are matched with a local physician who comes to your house in under one hour and the cost is $99. No additional charges or extras.  The ultimate in convenience, accessibility, experience and engagement with a price point well within a consumers reach.

The second is Skinstamatic, a gamified, mobile collective sourced medical image search app. This is an oversimplification, but take a couple of pictures of the skin, upload, and broad certified dermatologists and  dermatology professionals using photo identification, not tele-dermatology,   review and make recommendations as to the top potential diagnoses.  You can then use the app to access a local dermatologist and make an appointment for treatment.  This app was built on Dr. Green’s Skinphoto Text Match Inc company platform for dermatologists.

The smartphone as the doctor meeting the healthcare needs of the consumer.  All of this driving convenient, accessible, mobile care and giving the healthcare consumer or patient a measure of value, price certainty, quality, control and information.

The use of technology and innovative care practices by physicians, which no doubt requires a change in the business model and some openness, can be the physician’s friend in countering the advances of hospitals and health systems. In the long run, independent physicians are better for healthcare consumers and patient in care, experience and engagement.  Besides, no matter the payment system it will still take a doctor’s order to get anything done.

Long live the independent physician.

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