Disruptive tech does not need to be high tech

By:

Nov 10, 2021

A patient goes to their doctor and is told they have high blood pressure. The physician recommends the patient begins to monitor their own blood pressure at home and lists a number of possible at-home monitors to use. Most of them are digital monitors, as they are easier to read, and their costs range between $50-$100. The patient is worried; while to some that charge is not a problem, they’re worried about what expense they’d need to forego to purchase a monitor. 

Alternatively, a nearby health clinic is offering free, manual blood pressure cuffs to anyone in need of one. The patient has no idea how to use a manual blood pressure cuff, but unlike the digital ones it’s free. When they receive the manual cuff, they are given a slip of paper with the name of a YouTube video, the channel name, and the directions to the nearest library. By the end of the day, the patient has received both a free blood pressure cuff and a free way to learn how to use it. 

Enabling disruption

One of the hallmarks of disruptive innovation is a technological enabler—an invention or innovation that makes a product or service more accessible and affordable to the broader population. But in this day and age, where technology is generally associated with new and improved inventions, it’s easy to assume that the technological enabler of disruptive innovation needs to be a new technology. 

However, there is no rule that the technology enabling disruption needs to be something new. Existing technology can be leveraged in disruptive ways, while new technology can be rolled out as a sustaining innovation. Today we are surrounded by established technology, which can potentially be used in disruptive ways. 

What’s old is new again

Blood pressure monitoring is a great example of how disruptive technology doesn’t need to be new or high-tech. Remote patient monitoring technology, when used as a component of a lower-cost business model, can disrupt traditional primary care models by making tracking health statistics more accessible and affordable than making a visit to the primary care provider.

Some patients may find that purchasing their own digital monitor is the best option for them. Others may struggle with that purchase, so an alternative solution needs to be developed. As technology is now ubiquitous (in particular the internet), it is possible to use what already exists to disrupt even the disruptors. A website like YouTube, paired with a low-cost blood pressure cuff is a great example of how existing technology can be used in a disruptive manner, if it’s wrapped in a business model that enables disruption.  

CommunityHealth, a free health clinic in Illinois, deployed this solution. They passed out free blood pressure cuffs to their hypertensive patients, and created an instructional YouTube video teaching patients how to use it. As a result and in the midst of COVID, they were able to help newly hypertensive patients resolve their high blood pressure. Utilizing what already existed in the world, CommunityHealth created a solution that addressed an underserved population—since health clinics were closed during COVID—and created the same results as if the patient had seen the doctor in-person.

Technology can better lives in numerous ways. Making products and services more accessible for a broader audience is just one way it does so. But technology does not define disruption. In fact, it’s entirely possible that many new, cutting edge technologies are used in sustaining ways rather than disruptive ones. The business model through which the technology is deployed determines whether it will be disruptive and upend existing solutions or merely offer moderate improvements to what already exists. New and exciting tech can be deployed in non-disruptive ways; on the flip side, existing tech can find new life as a disruptive enabler. 

Jessica is a research associate at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, where she focuses on business model innovation in healthcare, including new approaches to population health management and person-centered care delivery.