Things are changing so fast, I may have to give up calling myself a "futurist" and ratchet back to "presentist." Here's the latest: For several years now, in talks and columns, I have described a future healthcare in which you could easily look up on the web all the providers for any particular problem.
You need diabetes management, get your knee fixed, having a baby? Here it all is: What's the package, how much will it cost, how much of that will I have to pay, how good are they, including the outcome numbers and customer satisfaction scores?
Now, it's here. Or something this close to it. At least if you live in the Twin Cities in Minnesota. Take a look at Carol.com. It's still in beta, just struggling out of the egg, a little wet in the feathers still, but the basic pieces are all there – the packages, the quoted prices, the ratings, the "shopping" atmosphere.
What's missing from the model? I can think of two things. One: It's geographically based. Now, for most things, convenience is not only important to the consumer, it is medically significant. If it's hard to get to, many people do not do so well with their medical care, especially maintenance-type stuff like checkups and well-baby care. But for some big things – getting your hip or heart valve replaced, or maybe brain tumor surgery, for example – you really want the best available, and it may not matter so much where it is. So being able to look beyond the local area would be a great improvement in the model.
Two: Real outcome scores. That's not the model's fault; real outcome scores for most things are simply not available yet. But that's what I, as a customer, really want to know – just as when buying a car, I want to know what the EPA says the mileage score is, and how those crash test dummies felt about the whole thing. I want to know who does it best, by some objective standard, beyond knowing who makes their customers feel best about them.
But Carol.com is a great start. This kind of thing could do for healthcare what Travelocity, Orbitz, and Kayak have for travel. And as it does that, something much more important than consumer convenience starts to happen. As providers begin to feel that they are competing, with real products, with real prices, with real results, on an equal footing with whoever wants to offer the same products, healthcare will get better faster cheaper.