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If the “it” is e-medicine, and the “they” refers to patients, the “build it and they will come” strategy doesn’t necessarily apply – not without a bit of work, that is.

Readers of this blog will know that we support efforts to challenge normative business models in the practice of healthcare, including those that incorporate the use of the Internet to communicate and interact with patients (here are some posts about Jay Parkinson and the use of e-communication in medicine).  We don’t know exactly what the practice of healthcare is going to look like in 20 years, but the Internet will definitely play an increasingly important role in the future – and we will be there to greet it.

Many of the healthcare providers that are using the Internet to provide care to patients today will someday be acknowledged as pioneers that helped to shape the evolution of the industry, regardless of whether or not their efforts were immediately successful in today’s healthcare economy.  One of these pioneers, Dr. Ben Brewer, has developed a savvy and secure electronic interface for patients of his Illinois medical practice – one that helps define “cutting edge” e-medicine in today’s largely status quo healthcare economy. 

The problem is – patients aren’t interested.  It’s a common problem in business, where great products in the absence of interested markets do vastly worse than decent products in ripe markets.  Dr. Brewer likely has a great service, but if patients aren’t interested in (more likely, not ready for) it, it’s not going to sell, and the doors will have to close if changes aren’t made.

The key to selling “cutting edge” services, especially in healthcare, is to make sure a market exists that will demand the service, and if no market exists, create the market yourself through a combination of customer education and market hype.  This takes a lot of work to do, and though it may be too late to pay off for Dr. Brewer, there will likely be no shortage of opportunity to introduce cutting edge services into the healthcare market in the coming years.

The Wall Street Jounal’s Health Blog recently commented on the fate of Dr. Brewer’s practice:

Brewer counts himself among the minority of doctors willing to take the online plunge. “Most doctors I know seem unwilling or unable to make even email part of the way they practice medicine,” he writes. Legal worries and data overload are the deterrents.

At Brewer’s office the technical end works as promised, but patients don’t really seem interested. They don’t want to pay the (usually unreimbursed) $30 for the online visit with Brewer, and they’d rather just send a regular email, even though it’s vulnerable to snooping.