Healthcare: Eat some Apple

I’m convinced that hospitals/health systems need to become a whole lot more retail-like, which boils down to better experiences. And lots more of them. 

Healthcare is insulated from disruptive innovation which, in my estimation, is a result of market failure. Creating healthcare markets has, more or less, been the central tenant of many a conservative’s plan to reform healthcare. Regardless of where you stand on the host of issues surrounding markets in healthcare, the underlying reality is that they’re tough to create/make work in the industry. 

That doesn’t mean companies aren’t trying. Retail clinics are in the midst of a resurgence (if you can call it that, they never really surged to begin with–though the originals have been around for a decade plus). The concept seems to be taking after several starts and stops (and it should be noted in a nod to the aforementioned disruptive innovation difficulties, emerging as partnerships between health systems and a retail partner).

The most successful retailer of lately fame is no doubt Apple. The company’s retail strategy emerged amid many doubters. Apple products in a dedicated retail setting, they said, would not sell.

Had I been able to deliver an educated opinion at that time my thoughts may have been similar. But youth has its advantages and now allows me to declare (in a could cloud of hyperbole): the strategy has worked. Well.

Forbes blogger Steve Denning summarizes an extensive Wall Street Journal article on what makes the Apple retail experience successful. It may not be what you think.

Most commentators dwell on the obvious but superficial features of Apple’s success including: the good design (airy interiors and attractive lighting, a carefree and casual atmosphere); attractive products (strong demand for the products) and focus (a single brand with far fewer products) scale (only a few hundred stores compared to Best Buy’s more than 4,000) and clever marketing (the Steve Jobs factor).

Yet firms that have tried to copy these features like Best Buy (which has copied the Geek Squad) and Microsoft (which opened its first branded store in 2009 with some of Apple’s architectural and customer-service ideas), have had less success.

This can lead analysts to throw up their hands and declare that “it’s just magic!”, i.e. success that is inexplicable by any rational process.

It probably isn’t magic. Witness several principles of “radical management:”

  • “Stop trying to make money” – “Apple has grasped that making money is the result of the firm’s actions, not the goal.”
  • “Don’t try to sell” – “employees are taught not to sell”
  • Delight customers by solving their problem through a disciplined and consistent approach

Read the blog post for the details. The lesson: healthcare is uniquely positioned to create an Apple-like retail experience. Before you reel in a huff, recognize this: it’s far more enjoyable to shop for a new computer at Apple than it is to shop for an MRI.

We are in the business of solving a patient problems. Where healthcare falls short is in the creation of a programmatic discipline to provide that experience. Every time. To every patient. 

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