In June, I attended the Amazon re:MARS conference in Las Vegas, which explores innovation in machine learning, automation, robotics, and space. Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos spoke during one of the keynote presentations about the future of Amazon and customer experiences. At the end of his talk, the interviewer asked him the question: “What’s going to be the biggest change we see in the next 10 years?”
Jeff thought about his response, answered in a general way, and then flipped the question back on the interviewer to say that what he likes to think about is what’s not going to change.
He went on to talk about how customers will always want low prices, fast transactions, fast delivery, and reliability and how those things drive Amazon’s business decisions and technology innovation. People want to get something when they think about needing it. When they order it, they want it immediately. And they don’t want to pay extra for shipping. Customers want convenience and they want low prices. And convenience is a relative term.
That got me thinking about healthcare. It’s not convenient, and it’s expensive.
Amazon brought the store to the customer — to our computers, our homes, and our mobile devices, wherever we may be. Uber brought us rides at any time and any place, available on demand. Healthcare has been the least disrupted industry.
It’s easy to get lost in the possibilities for new technology like artificial intelligence or machine learning to improve our healthcare system. Healthcare may be one of the hardest industries to disrupt, and the delivery of care has changed the least. We always have to come back to what the customer needs — or like Jeff said, what’s not going to change.
What patients want is immediate access to their healthcare provider. As soon as they think about needing an appointment, they want to be seen. So far, few have been able to address those fundamental needs.
Practices are still treating patients in a Sears, Roebuck & Co.-like model. Sears didn’t modernize in a way that created more intuitive, painless experiences for their customers like Amazon. Sears just kept doing business the same way they always had. They made their customers go to their stores, or worse, buy a catalog, place an order on the phone, and wait. They weren’t thinking about the things that aren’t changing — easier, simpler, faster, better.
That’s where many physician practices find themselves today. They’ve settled for not being able to handle the amount of phone calls that come in. They haven’t been able to give patients faster access to care when the patient is ready to schedule.
That reality is one of the key drivers behind my new venture Transform9: healthcare hasn’t changed, and we want to be a small part of better access to healthcare providers. We want to build our company around what’s not going to change — that patients want their questions answered quickly, that they want to complete tasks like scheduling appointments without changing their behavior, and they don’t want to have to wait for the practice to open to do so.
Transform9 has built a virtual assistant that is intended to answer questions and schedule appointments for existing patients of an orthopedic practice. We’ve built our bot using best-of-breed commercial technology, and we’ve tailored it specifically for the orthopedic practice. The bot sits behind the existing phone number of a practice and triages inbound calls to the practice. Patients call the same number they always have, and it’s available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Calls are promptly answered, and handling surges in call volume is not a problem. For the practice, it’s less expensive than hiring reps to answer the phones.