I was reading an article in The New York Times entitled, “The Rise of the Virtual Restaurant.” More and more people, particularly in urban settings, are using apps like Uber Eats, Grubhub, and DoorDash to bring fresh, warm food directly to their doorsteps. Mr. Lopez, the virtual restaurant owner featured in the article, had no chairs, no tables, and no menus. His virtual restaurant was actually four restaurants in one that were exclusively focused on home delivery. The rise of the virtual restaurant industry is beginning to have an effect on traditional sit-down restaurants. This evolution in eating got me thinking about old models vs. new models of health care delivery. Is there a lesson in the virtual restaurant industry that health care delivery can learn from?
The local delivery of health care has evolved very little over the past four decades. Local delivery of health care services still relies on fixed delivery sites such as a doctor’s office or hospital. Remember when an urgent care center was a new concept? And what about the promise of telemedicine? Telemedicine has been useful in a limited capacity in areas such as neurological management of stroke patients. But telemedicine has yet to impact the lives of the primary consumers of health care services: you and me.
As a physician, I’ve been fortunate to work at large urban hospitals that have innovation centers. Hospital-based innovation centers bring together business resources that help physicians commercialize ideas. As an individual physician, I might have a great idea, but with the help of my hospital’s innovation center, that idea can become a reality.
In addition to private practice, I’ve acted for the past twenty years as the medical director of an educationally driven health care website. Our website’s unique value proposition is to help our customers learn about their diagnosis prior to making a purchase of a product to treat their condition. We took this simple idea to our hospital’s innovation center, which evaluated how health care education and commercial health care product sales might come together in a meaningful way that would benefit consumers. By educating the consumer prior to purchase, we felt that we would enable more effective care and ultimately save money by purchasing the right product the first time. My innovation center came back with their opinion of this health education–commercial sales model. They called it Medically Guided Shopping.
What is Medically Guided Shopping, and how does it work? As the originator of the concept of Medically Guided Shopping, I ask myself that question every day. How do we take the siloed practice of medicine and integrate new, innovative ideas like we see in the restaurant industry? Is it possible to overcome the limitations of traditional medical practice? There are a lot of barriers to innovation in medicine due to vested interests in the existing care model. But if you ask the markets, it’s time for innovation and change in the provision of local health care.
Medically Guided Shopping can only be successful if consumers have confidence in the quality of the medical education and products offered by a health care website. How can this be accomplished? In the SEO (search engine optimization) world, website developers build sites that have EAT. EAT stands for experience, authoritativeness, and trust. Google algorithms have the ability to determine EAT, particularly for YMYL (your money or your life) websites. YMYL websites are those websites that handle sensitive information, such as health, finance, or travel, and accept money. Just as EAT is used to validate YMYL sites, commercial sale of medical products, based on educated decisions by consumers, could easily be graded to eliminate sales bias, medically ineffective products, and redundant or unnecessary sales. In this day and age of AI, an extension of EAT that would validate commercial medical sales based on medically educated decisions, seems like a reasonable extension of EAT.
Remember when we used to go to a doctor’s office for medical care? That might sound crazy to you today because we’re still in the innovation stage of changing how medical care is provided. But as we’ve seen in the food delivery industry, it takes innovation to move from early adopter to early majority.
Mr. Lopez eliminated the chairs, tables, and menus from his restaurant. As physicians and local providers of health care services, let’s find a way to get rid of those crummy old chairs in the waiting room and the splotchy intake forms we all still use. There is a better way.
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