Sunday, October 9, 2011

Where Is Healthcare's Steve Jobs?

Will the future Steve please stand up?
At his now famous Stanford University commencement speech, Steve Jobs made a point of telling the audience that he never graduated from college.  In listening to his story, the Disease Management Care Blog suspects Mr. Jobs really "programmed" his own higher education with a combination of internships and on-the-job training that enabled him to achieve those 10,000 hours necessary to create a world-class expert.

Which begs a DMCB question: where are the Steve Jobs of the healthcare industry?  While we've certainly had our visionaries and there is no shortage of 10,000 hour trainees (including yours truly), healthcare just hasn't had any of the Job-esque breakthroughs that have combined technological excellence and boundless consumerism. 

One reason for this, of course, is that healthcare, compared to the computer/handheld industry is truly different: unlike those glowing devices at BestBuy, healthcare intermediaries approve products and set pricing in a dense web of protective regulations.  This suggests that the absence of a "medical Steve Jobs" is no historical accident.  Rather, it's symptomatic of a market that makes true breakthrough innovations practically impossible.  Instead of visionaries, we have Secretaries of HHS; instead of "killer apps," we await more outcomes data; instead of product launches, we have the Federal Register; instead of cheaper, better products today, we're constantly trying to get someone else to pay for what we needed yesterday.

Nothing new there, but here's one more thing to consider when we think about Mr. Job's training:  A key ingredient in his education was his "outsider" status that enabled him to bring a unique perspective and turn the industry on its head.  Contrast his lack of any recognizable credentials with healthcare's unceasing reliance on vetted and insider MDs, PhDs, economists, academics, administrators, bureaucrats and other such experts on various Boards, Agencies and Panels. 

Steve Jobs tested his insights in a marketplace filled with consumers and changed the world.  Healthcare's expert class is imposing their assumptions on the same consumers and are preserving a dysfunctional system.

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