While Social Media is focusing on the battle raging around the world between traditional cab/taxi services (Hackney cabs, you like ‘em or you don’t!) and “Sign Up to Drive” services a more disruptive change is taking place: the uberization of banking institutions and healthcare services.
Now while I happily subscribe to uberizing today’s banking system, and essentially any service that removes middlemen (and often inexplicable commissions and margins) standing between the consumer and the service provider, disrupting the healthcare system in yours and my favourite country poses some deeply ethical questions. Can the medical profession rethink itself and come to terms with something as fundamental as replacing a physical visit to the local GP or MD by an on-line consultation? Should insurance companies act as facilitators in the uberization process? Do health schemes need to be profitable and what form should any profit take? Many healthcare systems today are facing some complex issues, For example 1) rural desertification and the resulting closure of medical cabinets, clinics and local care centres. 2) overcrowded and understaffed A&E units, because patients object to waiting months for an appointment with their local GP, 3) resistance to any national, federal or centrally run system, a resistance aggravated by what people see as ubiquitous but redundant bureaucracy, and absence of any form of corporate style governance in what is essentially a non-profit making public service.
I know this is opening a Pandora’s Box to all sorts of arguments, for and against, and I know it irritates a lot of qualified people, with +7 years medical training and six figure college fees to pay back, to hear that people would rather consult some on-line medical dictionary, or worse, Wikipedia, than their local GP/MD. The fact is though, and this partly due to the above mentioned problems, its more convenient, and alluring, to go on-line instead of sitting around in some doctor’s waiting room or A&E unit for an overworked nurse or a physician to have a look at them, and we all have scary stories about sitting around in A&E units.
There’s no doubt, there’s room for innovation and while I, personally, believe you should never substitute a qualified medical opinion with something out of Wikipedia (especially when you have a rabbit’s bone blocking the esophagus and are turning blue in the face), I can see why people may do so. Perhaps the solution to this would be to create an on-line access to a local qualified professional, using Google Maps, Skype or similar applications, it might be a viable solution, in particular when the nearest doctor/clinic is some 50 or more miles away.
OK, so I hear the first questions: Who’s going to pay and why would anyone want to pay for an on-line consultation anyway when all you have to do is open Taber’s online Medical Dictionary? It’s a valid point but think about it, most state healthcare systems are by definition state sponsored so simply signing in on-line to the service would already assure payment to the MD. For those preferring private health schemes, these would already offer payment solutions such as PayPal, Apple Pay etc. And what about the treatment or medication? Well let’s think about it. If the MD prescribes immediate treatment an ambulance would be dispatched and either dispense first aid or take the patient to the nearest clinic. Alternatively, if the MD simply prescribes medication some enterprising 03rd party, delivery hero service would drop the medication off at the doorstep. Unworkable? Not necessarily, there are plenty of stories of kids who ran errands after school and made a business out of it because they were motivated and knew how to take it to the next level.
The good, the bad and the AI
Looking at the bigger picture there really is no reason to think that uberizing whatever as a service will rob honest workers of a job or that Robby the Robot will be hosting next Monday morning’s staff meeting instead of Todd, the team lead. Fortunately, we have tech and industry leaders such as Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos or Tim Cook, who, having secured their own places in history, are now offering counsel and insight on almost every imaginable aspect of technological innovation. And how reassuring to see them publicly intervening in matters of net neutrality and data privacy.
Whatever you think about uberization, AI, or the future in general for that matter, the fact is innovative services or technological breakthroughs aren’t always the result of some hoodie wearing billionaire’s eureka moment. Things, good or not so good get created every day and as a famous Vulcan once said “May I say that I have not thoroughly enjoyed serving with humans? I find their illogic and foolish emotions a constant irritant” … my bad, I meant, “Computers make excellent and efficient servants, but I have no wish to serve under them”. In other words, if the thought of having your daily life (and personal data) controlled by some Facebook style cyber-intelligence panics or irks you, get off your butt, react and do something constructive about it. And while you are doing that, take comfort (or Schadenfreude) from the fact that even the best laid schemes of mice and billionaires may go awry, as we saw recently in India.
Edit/addendum. After writing this post I read an insightful article courtesy of Vala Afshar (@ValaAfshar / http://www.huffingtonpost.com/vala-afshar/) about disrupting yourself. I read it and felt it confirmed, in better words, what I’ve always thought about a) entitlement and b) not being a victim. Read the article to see what I mean.