Eliminating the Middleman

Eliminating the Middleman

One of the many dramatic changes prompted by the digital revolution is the elimination of the middleman in business.

There are only a handful of businesses left that make it difficult or impossible to deal directly with the supplier and it can be argued that their days are numbered if they don’t get with the program.

One of the first things people started doing when the internet offered transparency into pricing and stocking was use that insight to get products cheaper and faster.

Middlemen add to wait times and prices. This is acceptable if the middleman improves the purchasing process for the consumer (for example, through an expert understanding of their needs and available solutions).

It is unacceptable if the purpose of the middleman is simply to take the order and pass it on to the supplier.

The classic example of this kind of middleman is the call center, or answering service. The only difference between a call center and a voicemail is the appearance of a human touch.

Ironically, in order to provide patients with the appearance of human touch, many healthcare providers spend millions of dollars, and rarely, if ever, get a decent return on that investment.

Take home infusion providers: if you are a home infusion patient, and you have a midnight question about your therapy, your call will be routed to a call center. The person on the other end of the phone will know nothing about home infusion generally, or your individual therapy specifically. They will take down your message, and give it to a home infusion expert, who will likely call you back and have you restate everything you told the call center operator.

This middle step hasn’t been necessary at least as long as mobile phones have been in existence, but now that modern wireless services allow for secure broadband connections, call centers are virtually obsolete.

My sense is that healthcare providers keep call centers to handle patients who don’t use the internet or a smartphone, or are uncomfortable with them. This seems fair, but, again, the irony is that in order to make people feel more comfortable, home infusion providers may be further frustrating patients by exposing them to long response times and the need to repeat themselves over and over.

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