How Platform Thinking Can Improve Healthcare

The industry is ripe for the very type of disruption that platforms can effect.

I like to think that my books are about big ideas, and none of my texts is bigger in scope than The Age of the Platform. In the two and a half years since the book’s publication, the import of platforms, ecosystems, and platform thinking has exploded. These days, I’m hard-pressed to find a startup that does not bill itself as a platform for some sort.

At the other end of the platform spectrum are large, mature companies that understand the power of ecosystems, SDKs, and APIs. Count among them IBM. Its recent announcement to open up technological wonder Watson to developers has platform written all over it. The goals: to build an ecosystem, to bolster innovation, and to encourage others to take Watson in unforeseen directions.

And this isn’t just some small side bet here. CEO Ginni Rometty has set a very ambitious target for Watson to contribute $10 billion in yearly revenue by 2023. IBM expects to generate upwards of $10 billion in revenue from Watson by 2023. It’s a key part of Big Blue’s future.

Healthcare: The White Whale

When I think of industries in the greatest need of innovation, healthcare quickly jumps to the top of the list. Going to the doctor’s office hasn’t changed appreciably in the past two decades. I find it appalling that I can’t just securely dial up my comprehensive medical history via some type of app and transfer the data to my new physician. I loathe filling out medical forms, knowing that they will probably just sit in a file cabinet. What’s more, as I discussed on CNBC last year, fraud, waste, and inertia are rampant in healthcare:

Because of this stasis, the industry is ripe for the very type of disruption that platforms can effect. Throw a sophisticated learning engine like Watson into the mix, and the possibilities magnify.

For instance, Welltok is a pioneer in social health management. The company provides an integrated platform for payors, health systems, accountable care organizations, and other population health managers to manage their health improvement programs.

Healthcare is ripe for the very type of disruption that platforms can effect.

Can someone say integration? I have consulted for nearly two dozen hospitals in my career, and their internal data management practices left a great deal to be desired. Stitching healthcare data together in ways like this can engender massive the savings and opportunities, especially when fused with platform thinking and the ideas of others. Think crowdsourcing on steroids.

Simon Says

Platform thinking often makes many businesspeople uncomfortable, especially hidebound folks in healthcare and the public sector. Companies, developers, communities, and people can take your core offering in myriad directions–and you may very well not like all of them.

I understand this object but don’t agree with it. The pros almost always outweigh the cons, especially in a market that exceeds $3-trillion per annum.

Perhaps 2014 will be the year of the platform.

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I wrote this post as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program. It provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise, and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies, or opinions.

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