A New Healthcare Model Rising from Tradition’s Ashes (and Tim Berners-Lee)

September 10th, 2012
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Marketing is dead,” proclaims a recent Harvard Business Review blog post, adding that traditional marketing (i.e., advertising, corporate communications, PR, overall branding) doesn’t work anymore. Consumers are finding more personal ways to make buying decisions and increasingly do not value general “push” efforts (other than perhaps to become aware of a product/service).
But what of healthcare? The perspective in the HBR post helps us understand that traditional provider-dominated sharing of healthcare services is also dead. We’re beyond the point of believing what we’re told, particularly if the person doing the telling is a representative of a company and thereby being paid to endorse a particular product or service.
Instead, the model has shifted to one of validation. Consumers conduct research, join online community groups, and listen to trusted influencers. These developments are everywhere now:  discussion groups (e.g. PatientsLikeMe), which connect people by diseases, can often provide more information on an individual’s specific symptom/disease than physicians who, limited by time, tend to be more generally focused.
What started this? The game-changing invention appeared on the scene a long time ago: It was the Internet. Driven by consumer behavior, which correlates with patient and prospective patient (preventative) behavior, the Internet has changed how we address healthcare. Now, learning more about how to identify symptoms and treatment options is no further away than a quick trip to WebMD.
Many physicians are not thrilled with the new reality. Resistance to patients arriving with results of searches and group opinions still threatens the physician-patient relationship, and doctors have a valid point regarding the abundance of inaccurate information available online. But we as consumers have the ability to research our issues, and in many cases can even research our providers.
How can life science and healthcare innovators make this new model work? Most importantly, don’t fight it. Instead try to:


  • Restore community sharing: point patients to groups and sites that facilitate communication in a valuable way (maybe even form your own, or add content and discussion forums to existing site and materials).
  • Identify influencers: they can lead discussions, so make sure they’re informed. Get them involved in rating—or designing—your solutions. This builds their reputation, and yours.
  • Take their advice: let the group promote your valuable contributions, and listen when they don’t promote you. This makes developing product research much easier—now, just be sure to reach out to the right group.

What does this portend?


  • Perhaps this trend (patient empowerment via information) will help drive efficiency through the system, as treatments and diagnoses are more tailored to individuals.
  • More “knowledgeable” patients (or at least armed with more information than before) may allow physicians to focus more on how to treat and less on information collection and simple diagnosis.
  • Difficult cases will still require diagnostic tests, imaging, and in-depth, on-site conversations with practitioners.

Is this a viable new model? How could you incorporate consumer groups and sites into your life science business? Can patients and practitioners reach a common, consumer healthcare ground? Let us know what you think.

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About the Author:

I co-founded Popper and Company more than ten years ago to help life science companies at all stages of development and of all sizes address inefficiencies in health care. Along with my team members, I focus on helping clients develop and implement strategies that enable the application of technology and processes to improve health care in novel ways, often through the establishment of relationships with industry partners. Click to send me an email.