Healthcare options are changing dramatically. Technological and market developments give people the power to take control of their own health and wellness, now more than ever before. Companies are constantly creating new consumer applications that seek to solve problems across the full spectrum of the healthcare lifecycle. These products include everything from contact lenses that measure blood glucose levels to an application that lets me chat with a psychiatrist at a moment’s notice. But despite recognizing the added convenience and personalization, I’m surprised by how frequently I ignore the sheer variety of products at my disposal in favor of doing things the old-fashioned way. Just this past week, I had to schedule my yearly checkup. Instead of booking my appointment through a service like ZocDoc or DocASAP, I instinctively grabbed my phone and tried to call a doctor. Why?
One reason is that just knowing about the existence of those services didn’t mean they immediately came to mind. Companies in other sectors such as entertainment or e-commerce can habituate customer behavior because their products cater to consumer needs that reoccur on a daily, or at least weekly, basis. This means that, if you can routinely provide a better user experience than your competitors, you establish customer loyalty. This is why when I want to binge watch TV shows, I immediately go on Netflix. Or when I need to buy a new pair of shoes, I always use Amazon. However, changing customer behavior regarding health is challenging because the nature of the behavior is infrequent and sporadic. Most people don’t get sick that often and, when they are healthy, it’s hard to convince them to remember to use app X, Y, or Z in preparation for the future. For a healthcare product to successfully disrupt the status quo, the added benefit or user experience has to be so formative that the person will remember the product the next time around, which could easily be months.
A person’s health is also much more important to them than deciding where to eat or choosing which movies to watch. People use Yelp reviews because finding a place to eat is a fairly casual decision that doesn’t carry much risk. But if I’m sick, I want to make sure that I receive the best possible care. Today, that means I would rather talk to a real person than interact with an app or website. In my experience, it’s much more comforting to make a personal connection with my care provider and to implicitly acknowledge the trust I am placing in him or her to take responsibility for my well-being. Before these products can achieve widespread adoption, they must address this human desire for interpersonal communication; a desire that is amplified during times of need.
I am truly excited about the future of healthcare. It’s finally experiencing the technological innovation it so desperately needs in order to keep up with the ever-growing demands of society. Twenty years ago, we were skeptical about the possibility of sequencing the entire human genome. Now, it can be done for under $1000. Although we have come along way, the new generation of consumer healthcare companies will need to solve the challenges of interpersonal communication and infrequent use in order to truly bring quality care to everyone.
Gabriel Lu is a senior at Columbia majoring in Computer Science and Biology. He has a deep interest in technology and entrepreneurship, specifically in healthcare.