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The Sharing Economy's Next Horizon: Health Care

Uber's flu-shot initiative successfully turned the traditional model for vaccinations upside down.

If there can be such a thing as an Uber development that flies under the radar, it was last month’s toe-dip into health care by this country’s most famous sharing-economy company. While Uber’s efforts to deliver flu shots in select markets across the country were modest and not without kinks, health care’s progressives recognize its effort as important toward laying the groundwork for health care to meet the sharing economy.

The sharing economy — also referred to as collaborative consumption — is a young industry, and to date it has been more impactful in consumer markets than in business. So it’s no surprise that health care — frequently last to the party — trails both.

The rise of the sharing economy might be tracked to the recession’s impact in driving new models in appreciation that consumers were consuming at different, more modest rates, and convenience was moving up notably on the value scale. Ownership of assets, most notably in the move away from the one-time American Dream of home ownership to renting, was quickly phasing out as the norm.

Partly in response to these realities, a new crop of companies — including Uber, Airbnb and Zipcar — introduced new shared services to the market. And the market has embraced the idea that there are certain liberties in operating outside the obligation and cost of asset ownership. Whether consumer preference for ownership versus collaborative consumption swings more decidedly one way or the next over the coming decade is unclear, though the sharing economy has found an audience and appears to be here to stay.

Consumers and businesses alike have latched onto the on-demand delivery model, which, generally speaking, is financially advantageous for both parties. And the sharing economy’s major players have demonstrated staying power even as old-school competitors have evolved their offerings to be more competitive, while at the same time trying to create legislative obstacles to industry success (for example, the hotel industry lobby trying to introduce minimum stays to Airbnb).

Two things are currently happening in health care that position the industry for sharing. Changes to how and how much providers are paid for delivering care are driving provider strategies focused on consolidation and economies of scale; and technology (the cloud) has advanced itself to the end of making sharing not only possible, but seamless.

Coupled with the sharing economy’s proven success in B2C, and inroads in B2B, health care is gaining confidence in the model. It is possible that products and services purchased and consumed within health care are ripe for change. Our country prides itself on having the best surgeons, cutting-edge technology and, in recent years, a commitment (albeit a bumpy roadmap) to smoothing out the kinks when it comes to the intersection of cost and quality of care. With this in mind, wouldn’t it make sense for innovation, by way of the sharing economy, to influence this rapidly changing industry?

Any area in which access trumps ownership lends itself to the sharing economy. While certain elements of health-care delivery cannot be shared due to safety and hygienic concerns (think a single dose of a drug), many opportunities for sharing exist in this industry. Technology has the ability to transform the way we purchase and consume. Uber’s flu-shot initiative successfully turned the traditional model for vaccinations upside down. The same can be done with other vaccinations, tests or preventive screenings.

Who wants to bet that Uber will begin trials of heart-disease screenings during February’s American Heart Month? And they are no doubt scheming on efforts we have not yet considered, as are other smart technology companies and the more progressive set of large health-care companies.

On a larger scale, the sharing economy has the capacity to upend decisions at the hospital and health system level. On the labor side, we see this with nurses who work for agencies instead of one particular hospital — they are told where to report, based on need. Major purchases on the hardware side can also be reimagined. Equipment sharing (between hospitals) happening today is enabling health systems to be more judicious in their purchasing and to better use the assets they own.

At the same time, sharing is advancing the promise of quality of care with consumers who are increasingly more invested in their care. Consumers love the idea of being treated with the latest and greatest technology conveniently delivered to their health facility of choice.

Never before has health care been as open-minded to new ideas as today. One day we may look back at comparatively under-the-radar efforts like Uber’s and celebrate that as the day that the sharing economy met health care.

Mark Slaughter is the co-founder and CEO of Cohealo, which brings the sharing economy/collaborative consumption model to health care by managing the analytics and logistics around the sharing of medical equipment across individual hospitals and other facilities owned by any given health system. Prior to his current position, Slaughter spent four years driving sales of robotic, laparoscopic and endoscopic surgical devices in a sales and logistics management role for Fortec Medical. Reach him @Mslaughter1230.

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