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  • Writer's pictureAlan Shoebridge

Disruption exhaustion. Are we there yet?

I’ll admit it. I’ve kind of had a problem with the term “disruption” ever since it first started being used regularly in healthcare conversations about five years ago. Back then it was said from time to time, but didn’t dominate every conversation. Today, it feels like every serious discussion about healthcare seems to feature the word in every other sentence and people jump at any piece of news about the disruptors and what they are doing to disrupt the industry. I think the term has reached peak use and is quickly losing much of the impact it once had.

So why has the word always bothered me and why now more than ever? First of all, I am a bit of a word nerd. To me, “disruption” is not a synonym for the words better or good. If the oxygen supply to my brain gets disrupted, that will not improve my long-term life plans. If my peaceful sleep gets disrupted by a noisy neighbor a 3 a.m., I’m not going to have a good day at work. I could go on.

Now, when negative things are disrupted that can certainly lead to good outcomes and positive change. Yet, I think we’re failing to ask the question about whether disruption is actually positive when people have ideas or launch new ventures. The best way to do this is to simply ask whether a specific disruption to healthcare is going to improve access, improve quality or decrease cost. Basically, some take on the concept of the Triple Aim in healthcare. If the answer is yes to one or more of those factors, than I am all for the disruption. If not, I start to question the value and wonder whether we should pay any real attention to it.

That leads to the other reason why that word feels on the verge of losing serious impact. Any time the “disruptors” in healthcare – CVS, Apple, Amazon, etc. – do anything, breathless news stories follow about what this will do to our industry.

A recent case in point was the story about CVS and UPS teaming up to make drone deliveries of prescriptions. This development is interesting and I’m sure the technology will help close gaps in getting medicine to some rural residents. Yet, can we really see this scaling and radically changing the industry? For people in heavily populated areas, it doesn’t seem realistic that most of us will be getting drone-delivered packages with great frequency any time soon. The sky would have to be filled with drones and that frankly sounds worse to me than the trucks making deliveries we have today. What goes up must come down, and those instances aren’t always planned.

It also feels like I receive at least one email a month promoting a whitepaper telling me how hospitals won’t be needed in the (I guess, near) future. Now, hospitals changing and becoming different I can believe. Hospitals being replaced entirely is something that I don’t believe will happen in my lifetime. There is care delivered at hospitals – trauma for example – that really can’t be handled at your neighborhood Walmart or retail clinic. It’s just not going to happen.

I’ll close with a call for us to be realistic and thoughtful about how we use the term disruption and react to news from the disruptors. Is the disruption going to make things better, cheaper or more accessible to a large portion of the population? If yes, let’s embrace it. If not, let’s manage expectations and maintain our focus on actions and products that will accomplish those goals.

#healthcare disruption

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