Why is the healthcare industry slow in adopting messaging technologies?

* Messaging in the healthcare industry

We all know that the healthcare industry, relative to many other industries, has been fairly slow to adopt a variety of communications and related technologies, including e-mail, instant messaging, Web-based appointment booking, etc. As we discussed in the report we just released on messaging in the healthcare industry, there are a variety of reasons for the slow rate of adoption for these technologies. Not least of which is the quite prudent conservatism among healthcare professionals that is borne out of a need to protect patient confidentiality and the critical requirement not to make mistakes when it comes to patient care.

However, I think one of the key reasons that healthcare providers have been relatively slow to adopt new communications technologies is the fact that market forces are much weaker in the healthcare industry than they are in most other industries, due largely to the fact that health insurance is provided as a benefit by most employers or the government. For example, while consumers will shop for the best price on virtually every product or service they buy, they virtually never comparison shop for healthcare services or prescription medications. For most of us, at least in the United States, we are liable for a fixed co-payment when visiting a physician and so we really don't care all that much if a procedure costs $150 or $350.

What if we applied that model to other industries? For example, if consumers had 'grocery insurance' and paid a fixed fee to shop for anything they wanted at a grocery store, far fewer consumers would pay attention to prices or look for the best value. Similarly, grocery stores wouldn't spend the effort discounting particular products, sending out coupons, implementing new technologies like self-checkout systems, and the like.

In my opinion, the lack of market forces at work within the healthcare industry is a key factor that has held back the use of e-mail, IM and other technologies in this industry. If healthcare providers had to be more competitive in order to earn your business, they would be more aggressive in seeking ways to reduce the cost of providing their services. As a result, they would implement communications technologies that give them a competitive advantage relative to other providers and they would focus more on providing better customer service, a key part of which would be improved use of electronic communications.

Obviously, there are a large number of factors at play in this debate - my intent is not to oversimplify the problem or to advocate that health benefits should be abolished. Plus, many healthcare providers already make very good use of communications technologies.

I'd like to get your opinions on this issue - please drop me a line.

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