Five things I think I think about how the health care delivery system is changing

June 24, 2015 at 3:19 PM 4 comments

I have the opportunity to speak to a number of provider groups in the course of my work, and many recently have asked about the big picture of how care is changing. Here are some of my answers:
• Getting bigger is in. The current dynamics favor larger entities. Despite our Marcus Welby mental ideal, the facts on the ground favor large entities that have access to capital (i.e., availability of money). Modern American health care delivery is very different from the Marcus Welby days. Then, one could convert the front parlor of a house into a waiting room and a back room into an exam room, hang a shingle, and voila! You had a doctor’s office. These days, it takes a lot of infrastructure, including an electronic medical record, computers, billing software, etc. to set up the same office, and all those things cost money. If you can have several providers sharing that infrastructure, it gets cheaper per provider. More than that, being competitive in the new market means understanding one’s performance precisely, and improving that performance continually. Understanding performance and improving it also takes time and money, and it’s disproportionately expensive for small providers to do so. This means large groups and institutions that can invest in their own infrastructure on a long-term basis have an advantage. There is some irony in this, as there is some literature that says the practices that are most successful in creating high quality care at a low price, are small. But nonetheless, the capital-intensive environment that is American health care in 2015 favors big.
• Vertical integration is in—again. After a couple of waves of integration between doctors and hospitals and then subsequent waves of disintegration, it looks like this one is more likely to be permanent. Statistics show that more physicians now work for large integrated systems than those that remain independent. Accenture, a large consulting firm, estimated that in 2013, only one in three physicians remained independent. Physicians employed by larger entities are now the majority, and a growing segment of the population.
• Getting closer to where patients are, is in. One of the anomalies of medicine vs. other goods and services in America is that people still have to drive somewhere and often wait to obtain those services. Think about how other goods and services have evolved. Much of our consumer economy has migrated to the Internet, through Amazon, eBay, and other online retailers, where customers shop at their own convenience rather than during “store hours”. Amazon is up, Sears is down. Some entrepreneurs are following this model and bringing health care closer to where patients are already. We haven’t quite gotten to health care being delivered predominantly over the Internet, but we’re trying to get closer to the customer nonetheless. Evidence of this trend: CVS has just agreed to acquire Target’s in store clinics and pharmacies for $1.9 billion. And why not? People were going to Target anyway. Why shouldn’t you be able to pick up a flu shot where you buy sneakers or milk? The key is offering your services where people are going to be anyway, rather than forcing them to make a special trip to access what you have to offer.
• In(patient) is out and out(patient) is in. Many services are migrating from the inpatient setting to outpatient, and outpatient into residential. Part of the reason is cost, but there are other forces that favor this. One is the continued mass customization of our society. A recent commercial says, “Sort of you isn’t really you.” Why should consumers settle for a standard product when it can be customized to them? This is getting cheaper by the day as computers make this mass customization inexpensive and easy. A business card company advertises that it can print hundreds of business cards for you, each with a different image on it. So why should my hip replacement be done in a hospital when it can be done safely, closer to home, and more cheaply for me as a low-risk patient at a surgical center? The hospital is still there for the high-risk patient if need be, but there’s no reason to waste all that high-tech shininess (and cost) on someone who doesn’t need it.
• Quality is getting customized, too. Part of the problem of buying value in health care is making it relevant to the individual purchaser. We have very broad and general measures, but few of these speak to the average patient. How do other industries handle this? By surveying and adjusting services endlessly. By doing so, they evolve from a general definition of quality to one specific to each customer. I use a travel site to plan all my trips, business and leisure alike. Recently the website started showing me hotel picks that are selected “just for me”. What they are doing in the background is taking my past search parameters and applying them to new cities I visit. If I booked a midrange, quiet hotel in the center of the city the last few times, that’s what the program will look for in the next city. Health care is a little harder because we access it episodically and with widely varying intensity, depending on our health needs. Despite this, it is possible now to predict much more precisely what services are more likely to be satisfying to individual patients through the power of big data. The upshot of this is that the power to predict quality and satisfaction is migrating from institutions (e.g., NCQA certification) to crowd-sourced individuals who are more and more empowered to find information relevant to them individually, and contribute their own experience to the pool for the next customer.
These five trends mirror what has happened in other industries over the past couple of decades. Sellers get larger and more comprehensive to relieve the consumer of the burden of putting together a satisfying experience on their own. Buyers get more discriminating as sellers put together more satisfying products through customization. As what sellers offer gets more satisfying, our tolerance for less-than-satisfying services and experiences goes down. Such is the endless cycle of improvement that free markets foster.
The upshot of this is that it is no longer enough to offer services; those services have to be fine-tuned to the potential customer, offered at times and places convenient to that customer, and then executed expertly to produce a good outcome at a good price, within a good patient experience.


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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jenny Bajaj  |  June 27, 2015 at 6:44 PM

    Jay – spot on!! Thank you for the great read!

  • 2. Wendy Spirek  |  June 29, 2015 at 6:39 AM

    Hi Jay! Would you ever be interested in meeting with our MDs for a big picture conversation? I think they’d really enjoy dialogue with you.

    Hope you’re well. I always appreciate your vision and point of view.

    Wendy Spirek Chief Strategy Officer Children’s Eye Physicians Colorado Center for Eye Alignment Stapleton Family Eye Center Office 303 909 2015

    Recommend us on FaceBook!

    Sent from my iPhone

    • 3. Want Healthcare LLC  |  June 29, 2015 at 7:25 AM

      Hi Wendy,
      Nice to hear from you. And yes, I’d be interested in a dialogue with your physicians. I am doing such a session at Children’s this week. Please contact me at if you’d like to pursue!


  • […] my last blog, I discussed the incentives for providers to consolidate with one another, and with payers. The […]


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