Collaborative consumption, sometimes called the sharing economy, involves systems for organised sharing, reusing, renting and swapping goods and services. It’s generally viewed as a way in which people and organisations can make better use of their assets, by making them available to others. It’s a model of consumption that offers huge potential for owners and sharers alike. It often, though not always, generates revenue for the owner. The sharer gets the benefit of use, but more cheaply than buying. And there are environmental benefits too, so everyone gets to feel good.
Collaborative consumption models abound, but they have been slow to catch on in healthcare. But now a few companies are starting to use collaborative models of healthcare.
Uber, a collaborative consumption ‘poster-child’, recently ventured into the healthcare market, helping to provide on-demand flu injections. Before anyone starts panicking about taxi drivers giving injections, the pilot programme allowed people in Boston, New York and Washington to arrange a flu shot. An Uber car then transported a nurse to the prearranged place to administer the flu jab. But this is perhaps not quite collaborative consumption in the traditional sense.
Sharing assets for the benefit of all
Cohealo is a start-up based in Boston, MA. It offers a software platform that tracks healthcare equipment utilisation. It means that healthcare organisations always know the location of each asset, and can find it immediately. But better still, assets can be shared when they are not being used. The owner makes a profit, and other organisations benefit from having access.
CEO and co-founder Mark Slaughter says that technology has got much more specific. Each piece of equipment does one particular job very well, but that means that each one is required much less. Hospitals could pool their assets and benefit from lower costs of ownership, while retaining access. It sounds much more like a model of collaborative consumption in healthcare than Uber’s venture. It will be interesting to see how quickly it spreads across the US, and then beyond.
Peer to peer relationships in healthcare
But there is another aspect of collaborative consumption which also has potential in healthcare, and that’s the often peer-to-peer nature of the sharing economy. One of the biggest impacts of eBay and airbnb has been to connect individuals with something to offer with others who want that something. It has been a source of huge empowerment for those individuals, spawning hundreds, if not thousands, of kitchen industries.
One new start-up in the UK, Medstars, aims to draw on this in healthcare. The company’s founders want to put the doctor-patient relationship back at the heart of healthcare. They are doing so through a website that enables patients to find, compare and book regulated private healthcare practitioners directly, instead of relying on word of mouth or a referral from another healthcare practitioner. Individual practitioners will be given a rating that will depend on the reviews of patients and also on their behaviour on the site, for example, whether they respond quickly to patient queries. Only those registered with a professional regulatory body, such as the General Medical Council, and licensed to practise in the UK, will be able to sign up, so patients can be confident of the quality of the service, and the qualifications of practitioners.
What’s perhaps unique about Medstars is the strong peer-to-peer ethic. The idea is for practitioners and patients to register as individuals, emphasising the clinician-patient relationship. Corporate healthcare providers like private clinics will be able to register a presence on the site, but the focus will be upon the health specialists linked to them. The founders, Mahnaz Hashmi, Barry Lambert and William van Niekerk, are three doctors from the Midlands. Frustrated by their experience of using lettings agencies to let their London apartment, Mahnaz and Barry turned to airbnb and found the peer-to-peer element a huge improvement. It set them wondering whether the same thing would work in healthcare, and Medstars is the result. William’s wife, Yolandé, a chartered accountant, is now the firm’s finance director.
Medstars beta site is due to go live in February, but practitioners are already signing up. The original plan was to operate in London and the West Midlands, but interest has been keen from around the country, so the site will go live nationally instead. Once it is live, patients will be able to view information about practitioners in their local area. Future plans also include telemedicine. Watch this space, because the service will take a while to develop, but this model of peer-to-peer practice could go far.
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