Uber is the answer to so many of life’s small problems. How will I get to the train station on time after I conveniently forgot that ice is, you know, a winter thing and I haven’t started my ancient car yet? Easy  —  call an Uber.

What do I do when my car seats are littered with week-old coffee cups and half-eaten caesar salads and my boss asks for a ride to the afternoon meeting? Feign car trouble and offer an Uber.

And among the most common: How will I save myself the embarrassment and pain of walking 12 blocks in a lobster costume at 1:00 in the morning? Yep: Uber.

Uber is best known for solving what is among the most quotidian of human dilemmas: how can I get myself from point A to point B  —  fast, with minimal effort, and on the cheap? And despite international backlash about the implications of outsourcing risk to drivers, potential safety risks for passengers, and Uber’s scrappy approach to overcoming regulatory roadblocks, there’s no doubt that the innovative transportation platform continues to draw consumers and laborers alike.

But the toe Uber recently dipped into the healthcare pool demonstrates that its core business may not be confined solely to the realm of transportation. For the second year running, Uber recently piloted a flu shot and “wellness pack” delivery program dubbed UberHealth, illustrating that Uber has barely scratched the surface of its potential for problem-solving.

As we wonder if UberHealth is a very literal omen of healthcare’s imminent “Uberization,” healthcare systems must be taking frantic note. While UberHealth isn’t about to put healthcare completely out of business, the first pilot did deliver over 2,000 flu shots in a mere four hours, generate demand that far exceeded the supply, and hear from roughly 80% of participants that the delivery of the shot was “important” in influencing their decision to get it. 

In other words, UberHealth is on to something. They successfully engaged a group of patients in a disease-preventing behavior, in a way that also addressed a job they needed done (in this case, convenient delivery). Healthcare systems are actively seeking ways to achieve those same outcomes  —  especially in light of rising numbers of patients with multiple chronic conditions and increased patient-as-consumer engagement. But healthcare systems would be better off taking notes on how Uber’s pilot succeeded, rather than what was accomplished.

The story of UberHealth isn’t the development of a flu shot service to be replicated, but an approach to innovation worth embracing. It gives healthcare systems several clues as to how to compete in the patient-as-consumer market and, most importantly, how to enable healthy lives in the process.

At the Business Innovation Factory, we do R&D for business models in corporations and in our most intractable social systems  —  healthcare included. We know (and research supports) that enabling health for individuals takes a village  —  a community of other patients, family members, providers, and organizations.

This is exactly why we employ the business model innovation process to imagine, design, and test wholly new healthcare models: to enable health, we need a process that examines the healthcare experience more expansively and inclusively, and borrows the networks and expertise of the many entities that shape health and well-being.

UberHealth demonstrates that healthcare services can be delivered on demand, in real time. Here’s what healthcare systems could learn from Uber and how they could follow Uber’s lead:

Let your customers shape the lens through which you see your business.

In a recent interview, former Uber chief executive Ryan Graves remarked that Uber sees itself as a logistics platform. His statement reveals Uber’s expansive notion of the value it provides, based on a deep understanding of its customers’ contexts.

The company’s urbanite passengers don’t only want convenient, affordable, and efficient transportation. They want to make the logistics of daily life  —  especially those that are somewhat time-consuming and mildly annoying  —  more convenient, affordable, and efficient. Who, in the midst of an overstimulating, over-scheduled modern life, wouldn’t want to remove a separate stop for a flu shot from their list of errands?

Healthcare systems should similarly be diving deep into their surrounding communities’ health and well-being experiences, to paint a nuanced picture of the context that shapes health. Taking such a broad, context-based view lends flexibility to the process of defining value, and puts the experiences that shape communities’ health and well-being needs front-and-center.

Break out of your organization’s four walls to transform the way value is created, delivered, and captured.

Uber’s executive team didn’t dream up UberHealth by talking amongst themselves in the board room  —  they collaborated with someone outside of their industry. The project was the brainchild of Boston Children’s Director of the Computational Epidemiology, Dr. John Brownstein.

Brownstein’s Medium article on UberHealth’s pilot touches upon the benefits of collaborating with Uber. As often happens with collaboration, their combined assets drove an experimentation process that was greater than the sum of its parts: Brownstein brought his background in Computational Epidemiology to Uber’s logistics platform, renowned for convenience and accessibility. Together they explored a new model for healthcare delivery.

Similarly, transforming the healthcare experience requires integrating new partners into the process, and leveraging networks to generate interest, borrow essential capabilities, and gather feedback. Imagine a healthcare system that worked closely with social services organizations, educational institutions, community leaders, and its patients to design, test, and iterate on a model supported by all of those interest groups!

Operate a sandbox separate from your core business, creating space to prototype and test new models.

Uber has already added to its service deliveries, iterating on its business model to try delivering lunch, business documents, and even Valentine’s Day roses. These deliveries could certainly be considered a part of its core business of moving people and goods efficiently.

They could also belie Uber’s willingness to create new partnerships, reinvent themselves in the context of many industries, and reassemble existing capabilities or create wholly new ones to support experimentation. Some of these experiments initially flopped, but without taking the first steps to test them, Uber wouldn’t have been able to iterate until they succeeded.

What if healthcare systems devoted resources to co-creating low-impact prototypes of new experiences, based on insights gleaned from engaging their patients, their communities, and the organizations that support both?

A scarier question: If they don’t, how will healthcare systems learn to create experiences that improve poor health indicators and enable health and well-being?

So, is Uber’s flu shot pilot just a preview of “Uberized” healthcare?

Given all we know of Uber, we would be naive to discount the possibility that they might unbundle other services from the traditional healthcare business model and deliver them  —  and new, wellness based services  —  with the same efficiency, affordability, and convenience as a ride home for a woman in a lobster costume.

But beyond this, the example of UberHealth calls us to change the nature of the question we ask when we wonder if and when healthcare will “Uberize.” Instead of focusing on whether or not we can translate UberHealth to healthcare, we should ask how embracing the business model innovation process might allow healthcare systems to imagine, design, and test solutions that enable health and well-being of patients and communities.

We won’t know until we try.

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