Color CEO: The Health Industry Doesn’t Need Magic to Improve. It Needs a Lever

April 2, 2019, 10:48 PM UTC

Othman Laraki, the chief executive of Color Genomics, describes an American health care system that’s “on a knife’s edge” with shrinking margins, escalating costs, frustrated patients, and Silicon Valley “barbarians at the gate” who threaten to upend everything with cutting-edge technology.

Health care appears to be following a similar track as other industries—retail, transportation, media— that have been deeply transformed by technology, Laraki explained at Fortune’s annual Brainstorm Health conference in San Diego. But we shouldn’t lose sight of what matters most to patients.

“Amazon changed retail not because they’re much better at ranking what we might want to buy, but because when I want something, it shows up to my doorstep in 24 hours,” Laraki said. “That’s logistics—not machine learning.”

In other words: The health care industry doesn’t need more whizbang technology. It just needs to use what it already has to put the customer’s experience first.

For health care, the bugaboos are capacity, context, and transactions, Laraki said. On the capacity front, we buy buildings like hospitals and put people in them. He asked: What if we instead “virtualize” the entire system, placing resources closer to where people live? With regard to context, can we use all of that data swirling around our digital lives to improve care? “Your phone knows you’re depressed well before it gets entered into the E.M.R.,” Laraki said, using the acronym for electronic medical record.

As for cost: Everyone knows that health care in the U.S. comes with an enormous price tag. What if the “micro-transaction” innovations found in on-demand transportation services could be applied to health? “It’s the difference between buying a car and taking an Uber ride,” Laraki said. “One of the biggest hurdles [in health] is literally making things easier—reducing the friction.”

For more coverage of Fortune’s Brainstorm Health conference, click here.

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