Medicine is seeing itself fail as patients become increasingly busy, while also viewing pharmaceuticals as magical, instead of tools with limitations (and dangers). It's in need of a technological disruption that can refocus patients on their care, and offer daily guidance and motivation that medical professionals simply do not have the time to give.

One startup--PlateJoy--is looking to revolutionize the healthcare industry by making it more consumer-friendly. The way they're doing it provides the best template I've seen for disrupting heavily regulated, legacy industries.

It's a three-step template:

1. Offer existing leaders support, not competition.

The hardest part of disrupting a legacy industry is convincing established players that your change will deliver enough value that it's worth changing protocols that have been in place for decades. For the medical field, this meant challenging the treatment of an illness that is becoming exponentially more widespread year over year, and which doctors do not have a real solution for: diabetes.

PlateJoy's founder, Christina Bognet, says she realized that the root of the medical industry's issues with preventative care came from doctors only seeing their patients a few times a year (if that). Her bridges that gap by providing a daily touch-point that patients can comfortably use to improve their lives, without having to sit for an appointment.

The company can then use the information and tracking from the app to have more productive conversations with their medical providers about their treatment plans and health. To sweeten the deal for existing industry leaders, PlateJoy also submits claims when patients hit physical milestones, such as weight loss, which makes ROI easy to track.

As of February of this year, several medical insurance companies have signed on to cover their service, including five Blue Cross Blue Shield plans, Solera Health, and Dignity Health. It's no question as to why: according to a 2015 University of Michigan study, preventative care could save providers billions a year, and even personally save individual patients over $7500 a year.

If you have a disruptive idea for a legacy industry, you need to schedule time to get familiar with the details of the dynamics at play. Maybe that's between customers and providers. Maybe it's the supporting or adjacent industries, which could easily affect profit or loyalty.

Start with preliminary online research, but don't be shy about reaching out to current professionals about problems they're struggling to solve--or have given up on entirely. They'll probably be happy to talk to you.

2. Expand the industry's value to customers.

The next step to disrupting a legacy market is winning over the customers of those established businesses. While most patients know that type 2 diabetes is almost entirely preventable, and that healthy habits today will save them money in the future, doctors and proposed solutions in the past have not proven effective.

PlateJoy's leaders knew they'd need to approach customers as consumers, and focus on the everyday problems they could solve in addition to disease prevention. By focusing on time saved, recipes learned, and social media boosts, the brand is able to sell an experience and lifestyle, not just a medical utility. While they aren't alone in offering a digital app for diabetes prevention--Blue Mesa Health and Omada, for example--they're the only one I've seen so far that focus on daily benefits over long-term health improvements.

Finding a way to expand the value of an industry is a powerful way to disrupt it. If you've hit a roadblock when trying to revamp an existing activity, either due to a lack of need or excessive compliance regulations, try brainstorming how you can make the industry as a whole more valuable to the world at large.

3. Form a deep understanding of problems--and solutions.

Lastly, in order to secure continuing success, you need to understand both the businesses you're disrupting, and the customers who will reap the benefits of that disruption.

Bognet was pursuing a traditional medical career before she decided to navigate to the world of preventative care. In talking with doctors, she realized that they simply didn't have the time needed to give behavior change advice--and with the current state of healthcare, they likely never would.

She entered a field they were passionate about and found a flaw in it. Instead of moving to a new career, she chose to address the problem and provide value to the industry as a whole.

You can--and should--do the same. Brainstorm how you can improve an industry that you're already involved in or passionate about, instead of focusing on current trends. More often than not, you'll find an underserved niche with a problem you can solve.

Clarification: An earlier version of this column did not include Solera Health on a list of companies working with PlateJoy.

Published on: Apr 17, 2018
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