#Health: Driving disruption – Uber-style innovation and the advance of health care

| March 31, 2016 | 0 Comments

big-data-healthcareTowards the end of last year, the European Commission and its independent Expert Panel on effective ways of investing in health explored the implications of Disruptive Innovation for health and health care in Europe, writes Denis Horgan.

The Commission stated: “Disruptive Innovation is a type of innovation that creates new networks and players that tend to displace existing structures and actors. It constitutes a real paradigm shift in the organisation of health care.

“[It] has the potential to reduce costs and complexity whilst simultaneously providing patients with improved access to health care resulting in better health and patient empowerment.”

The Commission paper added that: “The preliminary opinion defines and classifies Disruptive Innovation, identifies drivers and barriers for its implementation, and assesses its relevance in the EU by listing some case studies.”

The Brussels-based European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM) was among the stakeholders contributing to a public consultation on the document, as it has previously on many others.

Readers may well have seen and heard the term ‘disruptive innovation’, and the first time around the two words might have seemed an odd combination.

We tend to think of ‘innovation’ in generally positive terms and ‘disruption’ as a mostly negative concept.

Yet the term has been around for 20 years-or-so and shows no signs of going away.

So, what does it mean? In business terms, at least, ‘Disruption’ originally described a process by which a smaller company could successfully challenge older-established businesses by targeting overlooked areas as better-resourced companies focused, instead, on the needs of their main customers.

Like an oil tanker attempting to turn at sea, the bigger companies find it harder to respond quickly while the smaller, ‘innovative’ ones move speedily into the traditional areas, while still preserving their new ideas. When the bigger, traditional clients start to turn to the new companies’ services, in high volume, then we have ‘disruption’.

Whether used strictly accurately or otherwise (according to the model above) the term has spread into various arenas, not least into health.

These days, many people use the term ‘disruptive innovation’ to describe any situation in which an industry is shaken up, and that will remain the case. 

Disruptive innovation as a health care concept has been developed in the US and mostly discussed there. The Commission’s opinion studied how the concept can be applied in the European context.

It seems that, today, health care providers have three choices: ignore innovation (it may be deemed too expensive, for example, or unproven); push for further regulation to clog up entry into the market; or accept the ‘disruptive’ need to compete with regards to efficacy, quality and even price.

EAPM and its members solidly back the third option, and believe that this will eventually lead to more valuable and affordable health services. 

Can this work? Well, let’s take the example of Uber, the would-be battlers against inefficient and expensive city taxis. 

Uber Technologies Inc. has been defined as an “American multinational online transportation network company” which has its HQ in San Francisco. 

“It develops, markets and operates the Uber mobile app, which allows consumers with smartphones to submit a trip request which is then routed to Uber drivers who use their own cars.”

By June of last year, the service was available in 58 countries and 300 cities across the planet – although problems ensued in Brussels. Several other companies have copied the business model, to give us the word ‘Uberification’. It’s impressive stuff.

It is based on the notion that, if a service is unreliable or too expensive, then customers will look to go elsewhere if there’s an option. And they have, in droves.

But the health sector across Europe is much more fragmented and complex than the taxi services in any given city, be it in Europe or elsewhere. So could Uber-style disruptive interventions occur in those circumstances?

Well, while research and development in Europe certainly needs to be boosted by the European Commission and individual member state health care services, there is still much innovation going on that could be classed as disruptive.

Indeed, with the march of personalised medicine, genomic science, Big Data, smart clothing et al, health care is improving all the time (personalised medicine has had a huge impact in cancer care, for example) and innovation (coupled with research) has been largely responsible for this.

When it comes to the health and quality of life of a potential 500 million patients across 28 EU Member States, it is clear that we need more innovation, not less.

Whether we are comfortable about ‘disruption’ or not.


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Category: A Frontpage, EU, European Alliance for Personalised Medicine, European Commission, Health, Health care, Opinion, Personalised medicine

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