If Tesla Ran Healthcare

Would things be different if Tesla ran healthcare?   For one thing, there would be more charges.

OK, bad joke.

Nevertheless, everyone it seems is looking for the killer (kind of a bad term) app in healthcare or the big technology disruptor as Tesla has done with automobiles.   So far, it has not been found.

Sure there are things like urgent care centers with iPads for registration and emergency services which advertise their current waiting times on freeway signs.  Not to be forgotten in this list of non-disruptors are the boo-boo clinics in drug stores.

There are the call centers maintain by health plans where you can call with your health concerns.  Their main goal seems to be to prevent you from going to where you really want to go–your doctor or local hospital emergency service.

Don’t forget the Silicon Valley heroes who are looking to cause disruption in healthcare.  Who can forget Theranos, the brainchild of a 19-year-old Stanford drop-out?  If you have forgotten that sad story of non-disruption disruption, you should watch the excellent documentary currently showing on HBO about this fraud.

Where is Bones from Star Trek with his Tri-Corder?  That handy handheld gadget could diagnosis anything!  Captain Kirk often found himself on the receiving end of the Tri-Corder.  That was real disruption.

Maybe instead of looking at disruption we should lower our sights and simply look at improving service to patients.   That’s where two recent experiences with Tesla come to mind.  Tesla is about much more that technology.

Last week I got two flat tires over the span of four days on my Tesla Model S.  That’s a problem since Teslas don’t have spare tires and towing them is tricky and requires a special technique for reasons I don’t comprehend.

My flat tires were on separate wheels and both were on busy I-80 in the Bay Area.  I called Tesla’s roadside assistance number and they quickly sent out a truck emblazoned with the Tesla logo. My flat tires became a status symbol as cars flashed by.


In the truck was a supply of new loaner tires which would be put on my car if the tire could not be repaired on the spot. The first flat tire was repaired and in 30 minutes I was on my way.  The second flat tire later in the week was removed and a loaner tire put on.  The service was superb in both instances.

That got me to thinking about healthcare and its service component.  Like Tesla, we provide a high cost product or service.  Unlike Tesla, we seem to have a difficult time meeting expectations in terms of how we provide our service.  Long waits and poor communication are more the norm in healthcare.  Why is it despite our best efforts that level of non-service continues?

As I was writing this entry, an example of non-service in healthcare came to my attention.  A friend called who was concerned about his very elderly mother.  She was not eating, getting weaker by the day and beginning to have problems with activities of daily living.  She recently had a stroke. Was she suffering a physical problem or depressed?

She was resolutely refusing to go see her doctor who practiced in a very well-known integrated healthcare system here in California.  Her son found her primary care physician uninterested in trying to arrange a home evaluation.  He tried several ways to enlist aid from the healthcare system to no avail.  It finally took an outside physician friend who wrote a  letter he could send under his signature to gain the healthcare system’s attention.  The letter contained enough trigger words so it was no longer possible for the healthcare system not to do the right thing.  A home telemedicine consultation was arranged.

I think even more highly of Tesla after my two experiences last week. Contrast Tesla’s approach with my friend’s experience with a healthcare system which never misses an opportunity to publicly pat itself on the back. If Tesla ran healthcare,  things would be done differently.

When was the last time you felt there was a true service commitment from your healthcare provider?

I find myself beginning to believe that true disruption in healthcare does not require cutting edge technology, a fancy app or even a Tri-Corder.  The way to true disruption is a lot simpler.  Take care of patients in a way that meets their needs rather than  those of the provider or health plan.  In the long run that pays off.


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