An Uber for health care is closer than you think

Will there be an Uber for health care? Articles are split. The truth is there will be an Uber for health care. It just isn’t here yet. Expect it to be widely available in the next decade and as a result, people will get expert medical care that is more convenient, less expensive, and accessible.

What issues must an Uber for health care solve?

Media articles that have prematurely proclaimed that Uber for health care models currently exist. What they have missed are the fundamental issues of why the transportation service Uber has been able to thrive. Why now? To understand this, these questions need to be answered.

  • What is the problem Uber is trying to solve?
  • What other enabling technologies allowed it to happen?
  • What would an Uber for health care look like?

The problem Uber is trying to solve

Uber is simply helping people get from point A to B. This is a problem particularly in densely populated cities where many people have the same need. Before Uber, their choices included using public transportation, driving a car, or using a taxi. Each mode of transportation had its own hassle factors and benefits.

  • Public transportation was cheap. Schedule was predictable and fixed and consequently not flexible. Did not necessarily offer the most direct option to point A and B. A shared experience with many consumers.
  • Driving a car was more expensive. Offered flexibility of schedule- you did the driving! Offered a direct option of getting to where you needed to go. Private, but had the hassle of you doing the driving and needing to know where to go.
  • Using a taxi was often less expensive than driving a car but more expensive than public transportation. Flexible in schedule (particularly in New York where a sea of Yellow Cabs flood the streets). Offered direct transportation from A to B. More private than public transportation. No hassle factor of needing to know how to drive or knowing where to go.

Unlike the other two options, the taxi option offered variable experiences. Some taxi drivers were excellent and got you to your destination quickly, safely and professionally. Others, not so much.

What Uber did is offer a fourth option. With its app, it connects people who needed transportation to a pool of drivers. After riders set up an account, they indicate on the app where they wanted to go. Nearby Uber drivers would see the rider on their app, take the job, and then drop off the rider at the destination. Payment is done seamlessly between rider and driver via the app, so no cash or credit cards are physically exchanged between the two parties. More importantly, there is accountability of the transportation experience for both the driver and rider as each get to rate the other.

What enabling technologies allowed Uber to happen

While the smartphone certainly is important, what matters more is the development of GPS navigation tools or devices. This is the point most articles miss when proclaiming the next Uber for health care.

Before the advent of GPS apps and devices, when people took taxis they paid the driver to get them from point A to B. They also paid for his experience, expertise, and mental map of the city on how to get there quickly and efficiently. Otherwise, their alternative would be to drive themselves, pull out paper maps and have someone help navigate or pull to the side of the road when they got lost.

With the plethora of GPS navigation apps and devices today, no one gets lost. Everyone is an expert navigating through the city. The advent of GPS also means that taxi drivers no longer are the only experts available to navigate the city. Their expertise and experience was encoded in the software and available to anyone in a very easy format. GPS navigation apps and devices made everyone a driver who could get from point A to B efficiently and reliably and not just for one city, but every city.

As a result, anyone with GPS who had a license to drive could be a taxi driver or expert navigator anywhere and at anytime. He didn’t need to have years of experience navigating the city to create a mental map. He could hop on or hop off at anytime as a driver. Without GPS, it highly unlikely there would be a large enough pool of willing drivers available to ensure Uber riders always had an available car nearby. Fortunately, for Uber this is not a problem as in less than four years operating in New York City, there are more Uber drivers than taxi drivers.

Uber’s app certainly made the crucial link of connecting these drivers with riders easy and convenient. It is this link of connecting doctors to patients is what media often focused on when looking at health care. What they are missing is, where is the GPS device or app equivalent in health care?

What would an Uber for health care look like?

What health care needs is to create software for consumers that replicate the experience of expertise of a doctor much the same way GPS devices did for the navigation expertise of taxi drivers. GPS allows any driver to be an expert driver in any city, New York, San Francisco, Boston, or Los Angeles. The Uber for health care would allow anyone to access the expertise of the best doctor for diabetes, bladder infections, or cancer care. Like GPS once this health care software or app is developed, make it widely available to the public. They will be expertly guided and learn if they need treatment, what type of treatment, or perhaps they might choose no treatment. After all, the problem patients wanted solved is that they have symptoms, want to know the cause of their symptoms, and, if necessary, get the treatment needed to resolve the issue.

While increasingly there is more software and apps that connects doctors to patients, what we need is software that takes medical expertise and makes it available to the public.

Once this class of software is widely available to public, then the Uber for health care will have arrived. People will discover health care can super convenient, quick and easy, and inexpensive.

Just like Uber.

Davis Liu is a family physician and head of service development, Lemonaid Health.   He is the author of The Thrifty Patient – Vital Insider Tips for Saving Money and Staying Healthy and Stay Healthy, Live Longer, Spend Wisely. He can be reached at his self-titled site, Davis Liu, MD, and on Twitter @DavisLiuMD.

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