The key to facilitating change in chronic care management

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Dec 17, 2019

Six out of ten people in the United States suffer from a chronic disease, so it’s no surprise that spending on those with chronic diseases represents a big piece of the national health expenditure pie—around $3.15 trillion. Finding the right formula for effectively managing a chronic disease can make a world of difference in improving a patient’s quality of life. Further,  strategies that effectively manage chronic diseases at scale have the potential to make a big impact on reducing healthcare expenditures in the US via lower complication rates. So what is the best way for innovators to do just that? The answer is simple: match the business model to the problem that needs solving.

One of the biggest drivers of healthcare costs is the enormous amount of overhead added by large hospitals trying to combine all three of these models under one roof, resulting in duplicate efforts. Providers can achieve cost savings and efficiency by employing one specific business model to solve specific problems. For chronic conditions, patients don’t need a surgeon following up with them every day—they might just need simple guidance on day-to-day activities. That’s where facilitated networks come in.

Facilitated networks provide a platform for users to exchange ideas, information, goods, and services with peers and relevant professionals. They exist in many industries. Uber provides an interface between drivers and passengers seeking transportation, while eBay and Craigslist are networks of buyers and sellers. 

In 2009, Clayton Christensen wrote in The Innovator’s Prescription that facilitated networks are an ideal business model for helping patients manage chronic conditions. This is because facilitated networks enable patients and physicians to build a community around the goal of managing chronic disease, ultimately improving patients’ quality of life and minimizing associated medical costs. Facilitated networks also help patients find “someone like me.” This can be incredibly powerful—not only do patients realize that they’re not alone; they also can share non-clinical strategies for personal disease management.  

Here are three examples of facilitated network business models in healthcare that are successfully providing value to patients. 

1. ParkinsonNet

ParkinsonNet is a Dutch-based platform specifically for those living with Parkinson’s Disease (PD). It connects patients with certified Parkinson’s physicians trained in the nuance and standards of PD treatment before joining the network. The network organizes information exchange between patients and their team of physicians, ensuring adherence to evidence-based standards and patient-centered care coordination. The platform caters to the preferences of the patient; physicians co-design their care plans with patients so they receive care how, when, and where they want it.

This model provides a connection of resources and information for a disease that is not fully understood. In doing so, those with PD are not just availing themselves to a network of people like themselves, but physicians are able to gain insights and best practices on treating Parkinson’s. 

2. WW (formerly Weight Watchers) 

What started as a weight loss support group for friends in the 1960s has since grown into a wellness network serving millions. WW provides users a way to gain the skills, habits, and attitudes they need to live a happier life, while also creating access to that original support group idea that the company started with. 

WW goes beyond simply providing a support group for managing the tough journey of weight loss and obesity (though that is a large draw). Recognizing that people seek to lose weight for a multitude of different goals in life (that aren’t just “lose weight”), it provides an all-in-one wellness aide. This includes connecting users with others, providing communication with health coaches, recipes and nutrition tracking, fitness tips, and other resources to improve overall health and wellness. It’s not just a platform for encouragement and holding each other accountable; it aims to be a one-stop shop for all the tools one needs for their wellness journey. 

3. PatientsLikeMe

PatientsLikeMe started in 1998 as a way to try to aggregate any and all information on ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). Since then, it has grown to a platform where anyone with any condition can connect and exchange information with one another. Over 650,000 people with almost 3000 different health conditions use PatientsLikeMe to share their experience and generate data points used in research studies. 

PatientsLikeMe shows more than just the impact of social connections for patients learning care management techniques. In 2011, the platform conducted its own trial of lithium treatment for ALS. The study took less time to design and conduct than a typical study, and allowed for broader participant selection and easier publication of results. This demonstrates the potential of facilitated networks to not just act as a platform for the exchange of ideas and services, but actually solve complex problems. 

The future of facilitated networks

Facilitated networks provide a unique benefit to chronically ill patients. In allowing patients to share their struggles and triumphs  openly and freely with one another, they gain the opportunity to learn from those going through similar experiences. Providers also gain unique insights both from other providers and the broader patient pool. Better still, because facilitated networks aren’t confined to a specific area or hospital, they may increase access to clinical treatment trials.  

The Innovator’s Prescription emphasized the benefit of finding “someone like me” in learning how to manage chronic disease. Yet facilitated networks can do so much more. They don’t just allow for the exchange of ideas—they allow for the exchange of solutions.

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.