The One Medical Group Story: A Lesson in Health Technology

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As the surge of mobile apps, remote monitoring devices, and various other patient engagement tools continues to grow, I often wonder how they will all fit into the changing dynamic of healthcare delivery. In order to answer that question, I think it helps to look to prior examples of success to tease out themes within healthcare. One Medical Group, a San Francisco concierge medical practice for the masses is now entering its sixth market, is ripe with VC capital and is continuing to expand (editor’s note: I have no relationship, financial or otherwise, to One Medical).

The One Medical Group Story: A Lesson in Health Technology

Before I get into why I think One Medical has been successful, it helps to examine its initial obstacles. First and foremost, it was tasked with convincing patients to pay out-of-pocket for medical care in times of relative health – a difficult assignment.

Secondly, it had to recruit physicians who were open to alternative financial incentives, and ultimately at less than the market rate.

Thirdly – it had to demonstrate to the community-at-large that healthcare’s value is in patient access and patient experience, not in the availability of expert opinions or physicians with prestigious medical training (which US News would argue otherwise).

How then did it gain such widespread success that IPAs are beginning to see significant drop-offs during open enrollment? Like most successful enterprises, there was no single magic bullet. However,  there are important achievements which can provide guidance for  emerging care models or new technology implementations.

First, One Medical understood that people don’t only get sick between 9a – 12p and 1p – 4p. From its  onset, O.M. promoted extended morning, evening and weekend hours to widen its appeal and inject its care model into the modern lifestyle – one that doesn’t revolve around a normal business day or week. For example, O.M. doesn’t even close for lunch on Thursdays.  Nowadays, customers want services that fit into their lifestyle – not vice versa. Patients and physicians alike are looking to new technologies and services that allow them to live a more flexible and mobile lifestyle.

Continuing on this topic, One Medical appreciated that patients are just as busy as their doctor. Appointments start on-time, locations are convenient to where people work and live (not out by a hospital in an old medical building). Furthermore, One Medical replaced the automated phone-tree with direct, personable greeters as well as automation whenever possible and mobile access for scheduling, information and appointments.

And ultimately, One Medical patients feel valued by their physician. While One Medical’s advertising would suggest that this is due lengthier appointments (fewer patients per day) allowing for more intimate conversations and examinations, the difference between a 12 and a 20 minute appointment in the grand scheme of healthcare isn’t likely the main driver. I would argue it’s because One Medical docs don’t just “accept email,” they answer it. This ongoing relationship allows a closeness to develop between doctor and patient that can’t be achieved in a single visit once or twice per year.

With these achievements, One Medical positioned itself to capture the immense value of “word-of-mouth” referrals in the social media age. The small cohort of healthy and financially secure patients who appreciated the medical framework that emphasized flexibility, mobile access, and personal connection shared their newfound love of the physician’s office with their friends and family. And what tools were they using? Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, Google Reviews, 4Square –the social media platforms that all demographics have now come to embrace began with fervor among tech savvy urban professionals. What was once one of the most dreaded tasks in the demographic…having to go to the doctor…became chic, easy, and even fun. With popularity came higher prices, new markets, and exponential growth.

The point of this article, however, is not to congratulate One Medical on its success, but rather to demonstrate that how it separated itself from its competitors was not through groundbreaking technology or a never before seen tools, but rather through a more comprehensive and thorough understanding of market desires. The next groundbreaking app, device, or patient engagement tool will not be separated from its peers through better technology, but rather through how it connects with its audience and allows that message to spread. It doesn’t even need to capture the hearts and minds of everyone.

Rather, creating a passionate following among a select group – certain patients, specialty practices, particular aspects of care, and then leveraging that following to onboard others is through rapid “word-of-mouth” is how I believe truly influential and potentially disruptive healthcare technologies will emerge. So, take a look at the current technology you’re using or the one you’re developing yourself. Does it make you want to tell your friends about it, shoot off a tweet, or like it on Facebook? If not, I would say it’s time to look elsewhere.