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Disruptive Innovation and Healthcare

I am about 100 pages into Jamie Levy’s book: UX Strategy. It’s a comprehensive look at the why and the how of user experience and, how it should be approached. The majority of start-ups fail, that’s just a fact. UX Strategy won’t prevent you from failing, but it’ll certainly help your team avoid mistakes that will guarantee failure by implementing a systematic approach to understanding your customers, analyzing the competitive landscape, defining the value proposition and laying the foundation for a kick-ass user experience. One of the core aspects that Jamie touches on is Disruptive Innovation.

Falcon Heavy and it’s glorious 5,130,000 lbs of thrust

Let’s set the record straight before we continue. Disruptive Innovation is sexy AF. It’s the reason we are driving around in cars and not riding horses. It’s the reason why Elon can blast a beautiful electric vehicle into space for, at most, $150 million, where as the Delta IV(read NASA)can manage a launch for about $400m. Telsa, AirBnb, Uber, Lyft, Blockchain are all forms of big ideas and disruptive thinking–disruptive innovation.

Red Ocean — Ideas where there is a ton of competition. Blue Ocean — An area with little to no competition and a hot bed for Disruptive Innovation.

It’s the difference between a mind set of Blue Ocean ideas and Red Ocean ideas. It’s the faith that you’ve done your due diligence up front and have a solid idea that has been validated through solid UX strategy.

Which brings me to an industry that is in dire need of disruption and is one that, from initial inspection, looks daunting but if done properly would be paradigm shift for everyone.

That industry is healthcare and by extension insurance.

Recently in the news, Berkshire Hathaway, JP Morgan and Amazon have announced a partnership to “Disrupt Healthcare”. I am no proponent of massive conglomerates or oligopolies, but in this specific instance (like Google’s fight to become an ISP) I full heartedly support it.

Recently, I was trail running on one of my favorite local trails, North Table Mountain in Golden(not a humble brag, I swear). I don’t have a ton of free time being in graduate school so the majority of my runs happen on the book ends of the day. It was around 8pm and as I was taking a corner to cross a trail intersection and I heard it–SNAP! I tried to get up but immediately fell done. Having sprained by ankle several times, I knew it wasn’t that. Dragging my busted ankle down the mountain, in the dark ,on all threes, one of the first throughs to cross my mind was — how much is this going to cost?

Don’t hate on how awesomely terrifying my fracture looks.

I had no idea. No one does. The healthcare industry and specifically the insurance world is a brutally esoteric swamp of legacy systems built on propriety code, mass confusion and little to no transparency. A world where your claims are denied or approved inexplicably , you are treated like a burden when filling a claim and often times, your annual premium increases after using the service as intended. Seriously, WTF?

In what other scenario are you required to ‘trust’ an individual to provide you the necessary care(product), without ever pre-negotiating cost or seeing the prices of service? Nowhere, except for healthcare–where it can literally be the difference between life or death.

For me, I knew I was on a high-deductible health plan. Fine, I’d have to take a big hit up front — that was to be expected. But once I met my deductible, what then? How much does an X-ray cost, or a CT scan? What’s the difference? Are they covered or not covered by my insurance plan. Is an emergency walk-in clinic less expensive than a hospital ER room? Will aspirin, an ice-pack, blankets, a band-aid or a saline bag break the bank for me?

A $1 bag of saline can cost as much as $700 in a hospital. Let the pillaging begin!

The answer was, I didn’t know! I trusted the physicians and nurses were doing the best they could for me, but they don’t know the intentional nuances of my insurance plan or what each of these aspects were going to cost me. I said no to everything they offered me except for what I thought were the absolutely necessities: an X-ray, crutches and a walking boot.

A $1 bag of saline can cost as much as $700 in a hospital.

Oh, and did I mention I didn’t get a copy of any of my files, tests or x-rays? I am sure you already knew that since you’ve been through the wonderful world of the US Healthcare. Yet again, another WTF? Why am I not in control of my own health records? Or, at the very least, have access to them?

I was officially diagnosed with a lateral malleolus fracture. Not a big deal. Which, taking a step back is actually a pretty big deal if you think about it. Something as simple as a non-displaced fracture has resulted in: An ER visit(which took 5 hours), X-rays, a trip to the orthopedic surgeon, then I had to schedule an appointment for a CT scan (which for some reason the orthopedic surgeons’ office couldn’t accomplish)strange… especially for people who specialize in the skeletal system. Then, after my CT-scan, I had to take a CD-ROM, with my scans on it(which are in a proprietary format, so I can’t even look at them) back to the orthopedic surgeon(which required another appointment $$$$) to have him look at them.

Yep, this about sums it up.

Now, what part of the above is a good user experience? And, do you see a possible chance for disruption? If you want to cheat, the answers are: absolutely nothing and fuck yes.

The US healthcare system and insurance world is fraught with opportunity to be corrected. It’s a massive obfuscated tangle or bureaucracy, entrenched habits and a sort of ‘eh, fuck it’ attitude. Let me tell you, I used to work in insurance, if there is one industry that hates change, it is without a doubt, insurance. I can only hope Amazon, Berkshire and JP Morgan come along and drag the vampiric corpse of the healthcare(and insurance) system out into the sunlight and watch it burn.




Thoughts and stories from Studio, a product design masters program at CU Boulder, dedicated to re:working, re:designing and re:imagining the world of design and technology.

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Ty Foster

Ty Foster

Product Designer. Earth

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