What does Cyber Monday mean for medical professionals?

Today is Cyber Monday.  It is commonly known as the day Americans hit their computers, rather than stores.  Economists have been predicting the eventual collapse of the brick-and-mortar commerce for more than a decade.

In an article in Forbes, Dr. Robert Pearl noted that the coronavirus pandemic came on like a retail wrecking ball in 2020, sending shopping-mall icons like Brooks Brothers, J. Crew and Neiman Marcus into bankruptcy.

Pearl noted that here are valuable lessons to be learned from retail. Doctors and other healthcare leaders should harken the alarm bells and heed these Cyber Monday-inspired warnings before it’s too late:

1. Doctors must integrate technology with in-person care 

It used to be that Black Friday was the end-all-be-all of shopping events. In fact, just eight years ago, a Walmart spokesperson said, “We think about Black Friday as if it were our Super Bowl.”

Cyber Monday, by contrast, always sat at the kiddy table—a holiday afterthought for most retailers. That’s no longer the case. In 2019, Cyber Monday sales hit $9.4 billion, besting Black Friday’s $7.4 billion. This year, amid a pandemic that’s pushing nearly all retail sales online, many traditional sellers are now combining their Black Friday sales with Cyber Monday, hoping to capitalize on the eCommerce opportunities they overlooked for so long.

The healthcare takeaway: Technology-based care belongs at the adult table, alongside office-based care. It’s a lesson many doctors still disregard.

Since the pandemic video visits have been declining. That’s a major error. Most patients want to keep using virtual care after the pandemic. So, instead of rolling back digital offerings, doctors should take a lesson from retailers this Cyber Monday and look for ways to combine digital tools with in-person services.

Of course, doctors can’t deliver all forms of care virtually. But they also can’t continue to overlook the evolving needs of patients either.

Just as online shopping alternatives shifted the balance of power between sellers and consumers, it is realigning the power dynamics in healthcare, too. Patients in need of medical advice, a prescription or specialty expertise once had no choice but to make in-person appointments at the convenience of a local doctor. Technology has changed all that. If physicians continue to resist (rather than embrace) modern IT solutions, patients will vote with their feet.


2. Doctors must combine technologies to maximize value, quality   

A survey conducted in 1998 found that only 2% of U.S. healthcare providers had implemented a fully operational computer system in their offices. That same year, two-thirds of American families had a computer in their homes.

Like traditional retailers, most doctors are not “early adopters” of technology. And because many physicians struggle to integrate basic tech into their practices—including video visits, online scheduling and secure emailing—they are missing a much larger opportunity. Not only do these tools add convenience and value to the lives of patients, they can also greatly improve the quality of care provided.

One physician who has seized on this opportunity is Dr. Devi Shetty. The world-renowned heart surgeon currently maintains hospitals in his home country of India and in the Grand Cayman Islands. These facilities are separated by a dozen time zones and yet the two locations operate seamlessly as one. When the cardiology teams in India go home at night, their patients are monitored by physicians on the other side of the globe. And 12 hours later, flow reverses.

Consider how this approach would benefit at-risk patients in the United States, where hospital staffing slows down significantly on nights and weekends. Currently, when a patient experiences a dangerous drop in blood pressure or oxygenation overnight, it can take U.S. doctors an hour or more to notice and respond.

But with video monitoring and a shared medical-record system, doctors located anywhere in the country (or even in other parts of the world) could observe these patients and address their medical needs at the first sign of a problem, making sure no one falls through the cracks.

The future will reward physicians who embrace technology to provide high-quality medical care around the clock. Those who cling to the past will be left behind.


3. Doctors must be the disruptors, not the disrupted 

Most of the time, the origins of disruptive innovation can be traced back decades, to an unfulfilled consumer need that a successful incumbent never saw—or recognized but chose not to address.

Nowhere is this truer than in American medicine. Independent research has long confirmed that the U.S. healthcare system is the most expensive and least effective in the developed world. Medical costs have bankrupted millions of patients and sent millions of others deep into debt. Among the world’s wealthiest nations, the United States has the lowest life expectancy, highest infant and maternal mortality rates, and the most preventable deaths per capita.

If ever there was a system primed for disruption, it is American healthcare. As the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage, most doctors are anxiously awaiting a return to “normal.” They will be sorely disappointed. Whether the disruptive innovations are led by big business, global competitors or entrepreneurial doctors and hospitals, the fact remains: Change is coming. The days of healthcare providers surviving by simply raising prices are gone.

People who prefer shopping online during Cyber Monday (rather standing in lines for Black Friday) ought to ask themselves: “What if getting medical care were this easy?” Once patients realize it could be, medicine will never again return to the old normal.