Empathy for customers is perhaps the most powerful engine for success, but it is missing from many industries. When we experience the empathy gap in industries like air travel, it's frustrating — but in other scenarios, like getting health care, it can be life threatening.
Many Americans, including those with health insurance, cannot see the doctors they need or get treatment because it is too hard to navigate a system designed by people who have not put themselves in the shoes of patients.
Now that it looks like the Affordable Care Act will remain in place for the immediate future, we need to look for other ways to fix our broken health-care system. With legislators gridlocked, there is a huge opportunity for socially-minded entrepreneurs to step up and close the empathy gap that is keeping legions of Americans from getting the health care they need.
Here are three wide-open opportunities that are ripe for entrepreneurs.
1. Create a health plan for every consumer.
Investors routinely pay wealth managers for financial plans. However, few people have a plan for their health and wellness — something everyone should prioritize.
With individuals bearing more of the cost of their own medical care, we need to help consumers reduce out-of-pocket costs through a preventive approach. Customized written health plans, written in the style of a financial plan, would make it easier for consumers to be proactive.
Every American should have a customized written plan that organizes all of their health information and helps them prepare and plan for potential health challenges. Such a plan might look at someone's family health history and advise him, for instance, that he needs extra screenings for a particular disease or should avoid a certain type of medication.
These plans should be prepared by trained health coaches who are not beholden to insurance companies or providers. Coaches should have access to the latest medical research so they can offer objective, scientifically-based guidance.
Entrepreneurial opportunity: Health tech companies could potentially create customized written health plans for consumers and partner with health insurance providers to offer them. Used correctly, personalized health plans could play an important role in keeping people well. By spurring them to address health problems before they become chronic or acute and very expensive to treat, these plans could save consumers — and the public — a tremendous amount of money and become a good business opportunity for the providers.
2. Remove routine health care from the insurance system.
Health care is unaffordable for many people with insurance because of a lack of transparency in pricing and the fact that payments for basic, day-to-day care and diagnostics are processed through insurance companies, whose practices drive prices up.
It is time to return to the days when patients paid their providers directly for a checkup or a routine blood test. That would quickly push the prices back down to where they should be. It would also cause premiums to drop, bringing them back into the reach of the many people who don't get insurance from an employer and don't qualify for subsidies — yet can't afford current premiums.
Entrepreneurial opportunity: Direct primary care, where patients pay independent physicians a flat monthly fee that covers primary-care services, is one way to deliver basic medical care at affordable prices. Typically, the monthly fees range from $25 to $80 a month, making the care affordable to many.
Direct primary care, while very promising, is only one model for doing this. We need our nation's most innovative thinkers to look at other ways of bringing basic health-care services to the public in a way that keeps quality high and costs to a minimum.
3. Provide community liaisons.
Coordinating medical care is too hard for the average person and can often require many hours on the phone. For people who are not well and don't have the energy to persist, dealing with the bureaucracy can be a deterrent from getting any care at all.
It doesn't need to be this way. With more community liaisons available to help people through the system, it would be easier for them to get care. Suicides among veterans don't take place because the Veteran's Administration is underfunded. The problem is a lack of transitionary help. While the VA does offer case managers, there isn't an actual person in the veterans' community to help them through the system from the predeployment phase and beyond. Many veterans fall through the cracks of the system, with tragic consequences.
We need community liaisons for many other populations, too. People who are disabled, live with mental illness or don't speak English fluently often lack the care they need because they can't navigate the system.
Hospitals and insurance companies aren't likely to provide this help. Many face almost no competition in the locales where they operate and have little impetus to improve the patient experience. As a result, patients who can't navigate an overly complex system eventually find a simpler route on their own: They go to the emergency room. That drives up the cost of health care for everyone.
Entrepreneurial opportunity: It's time for health-care innovators outside of the system to offer fresh solutions and services for staying in touch with those who aren't getting the care they need. The opportunity is ripe for entrepreneurial companies to provide community liaisons.
Ultimately, fixing the health-care system starts with asking ourselves a basic question: What is the experience of getting health care like for the consumer? For many, it's daunting — but we can change that. The timing is right for entrepreneurs to step up and innovate. No American should feel like quality health care is as elusive as a seat in first class. It's time to close the empathy gap and get people the services they need.