Friction: A Healthcare Entrepreneur's Opportunity and Responsibility

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“What if no one uses this?” That is the question that haunts every entrepreneur in every industry. Sure, it’s a great idea. Yeah, the prototype looks amazing. Definitely, it’s cost effective and evidence-based.

But will they use it?

The answer will only be yes if the product reduces friction. More friction = more resistance to adoption = less success. This is obvious in pretty much every industry outside healthcare. Our phones are intuitive, we can talk to our TV remotes and our music systems, we can order more dog food with a single button or voice command. Even car buying has begun moving away from the old model (Carvana, anyone?)

We no longer accept friction in our lives.

It’s no secret that healthcare has lagged in this regard. For the past decade or so, we’ve been looking around asking why we can one-click order from Amazon but can’t extract our personal health information from whatever server it’s hiding on.  And just think about the difference between reviewing your order history on Amazon and reading your explanation of benefits statement.

Tom Swanson of Adobe puts it this way:

Health care is the one vertical that all of us are going to participate in. You can choose whether you go to Disney, or whether you go on a cruise […] Having to engage in the healthcare ecosystem? Not a choice. And so if we can do things that actually eliminate friction, and create better relationships and create better engagement and make the entire process work better for the customer, that’s a big deal.

Ironically, our interactions with healthcare are probably high-friction precisely because they’re not optional. As Tom said, we can choose to do the other things. Which means that Disney has to work to get our business. So they developed the FastPass. It was expensive and painful for the company, but ask visitors to the park and they’ll say it’s a game changer (at least, that’s what we’ve heard from friends).

Healthcare hasn’t really had the same obligation. The industry has operated more or less as an oligopoly for decades. When we need medical intervention there hasn’t been enough differentiation to make consumer choice a real thing.

All of that is pretty straightforward and, frankly, not all that new. Everyone is talking about this idea of friction and a lack of consumer choice. So that brings up the second part of Swanson’s last sentence. Friction includes technological considerations like UI/UX. But it also includes relationships and engagement. That’s not (entirely) UI/UX, or getting your APIs set up. It is part of it - having a functional piece of technology builds trust, which is the root of a good relationship. Not all, though.

Let’s go back to the Disney example. It wouldn’t matter how great FastPass was if the rest of the experience sucked. Who cares how quick you get to the front of the line if the guy playing Aladdin is drunk and yelling at your kid. Disney has built trust with its customers to the point that people literally feel like they have a relationship with the company. Only some of that involves technology.

Indeed, the tech could probably be considered secondary, which is a lesson every entrepreneur and innovator might do well to remember. Ryan Wilson of Brookdale Senior Living sees this play out as he works to market his company to seniors. He said that sometimes it’s not the most high tech option that’s the best. Or even what people want. In Brookdale’s case, that means using a call center to help potential residents and families. A call center!? Talk about antiquated and low tech! Doesn’t matter though, because it’s what the customer needs to engage with the company, and it’s one of the lowest-friction methods for Brookdale to provide information that will help those prospects make a decision.

The good news is that the increasing conversation around friction suggests that we’re making progress towards less of it. Which means a more consumer friendly healthcare system. We hear it voiced regularly in conversation with people from across the industry. We’re encouraged by the number of entrepreneurs working to smooth out these friction points AND work with established industry to get them implemented. In addition, we’re seeing more people talking about trust and relationship first, and using those human connections to drive the technology instead of trying to shoehorn human engagement into some technological framework.

Setting it up this way represents both a better environment for the end user - the consumer, the patient. But it also presents a huge opportunity for success to the entrepreneur. Building trust and reducing friction is the ideal way to ensure people will, in fact, use something. When they use it, they live a healthier life and you make more money. A good result all around.

 

How are you thinking about this issue? Leave a comment and let us know.