What benefits can come from having beneficiaries, customers, and users doing more for themselves? In our harried lives, most people favor doing things themselves when that action saves their time.
That observation seems like a paradox. How can do-it-yourself be faster than having a service fully provided?
Part of the answer is that many offerings with full service are provided inefficiently. Here's an example: Half the gas stations and vehicle repair shops near our home prominently advertise low-priced oil changes.
Go for one of those oil changes, and you'll probably end up waiting two hours, even if you have an appointment. Be sure to bring a book or pick a location near where you can do some useful shopping.
Every 5 miles or so we drive, however, we'll pass another choice -- a quick oil-change emporium. If no one is waiting at the quick place, you can drive right into a bay designed to make oil changes fast. Unless you decide you want some other service, you'll drive out of the bay again in about 10 minutes and be on your way.
What are the do-it-yourself elements? First, the quick emporium makes the timing of oil changes an impulse buy through allowing passing drivers to see when fast service is available because no customers are waiting. That aspect of the business model is like being a mass merchandiser. The customer helps himself or herself to an offering based on noticing the offering, rather than having a prior intent to purchase.
Second, the drivers never leave their cars. In essence, it's like an improved version of a drive-through lane at a fast food restaurant.
We are often reminded of that comparison when we end up waiting in line longer for fast food in a drive-through lane than for an oil change. In part that's because quick change places usually have at least three bays while fast food drive-through lanes usually have only one line served by a single window.
For the customer whose time has an economic value to herself or himself, the quick oil change emporiums offer a good value. You save almost two hours over standard "full service" by spending an extra $10 to $15.
Do-it-yourself time savings can be even greater for accessing a physician to help you solve a medical problem. Let's look at an inefficient method first.
In the United States, seeking most such health solutions begins by visiting your primary care physician who is usually a general practitioner, an internist, or a pediatrician (for children). Primary care physicians are busy people, so you won't get to see them for at least two weeks unless you are experiencing a near-emergency. Once there, you are sent out for tests.
Depending on the test results, you either come back to the primary care physician or are sent on to a specialist. If it's still not a near-emergency, you will wait one to six months to see the specialist. The specialist will then examine you and order more tests.
Once the second round of tests is done, you'll have another chance to make an appointment and see the specialist again in one to six months. At this point, you've been pursuing this health issue for more than two months, and no one has started to treat what's wrong with you.
When you return for your second specialist visit, you can expect in some cases to be referred to one or two other specialists. Of course, unless it's a near emergency, you cannot get into see them either for another one to six months.
After those visits and tests are over, you make an appointment to see the first specialist again. Once again, you wait one to six months. Chances are, too, that each time you visit one of these physicians, you wait to be seen.
Between travel, tests, waiting time, and more travel, you may have invested four days of your time by now. Hopefully, your medical problem has gone away on its own. Otherwise, you're on a three-month to two-year treadmill that may or may not lead to a solution.
What's the alternative? One choice that many people favor is to visit one of the famous diagnostic clinics. You'll be poked and prodded continually for two to three days, and you'll pay quite a lot out of your own pocket for the visit.
But you won't leave until all of your physicians have received strict marching orders from the clinic for how to treat you. If you really need medical treatment, you're now way ahead of the game.
What's the problem? You may have to wait six months to a year to get an appointment at the diagnostic clinic. But that can be a big improvement over two years that may lead to inconclusive results. Some people gain an access advantage by simply scheduling annual checkups at such clinics.
What's a faster, less time-consuming alternative? Conjure up a scary symptom, and you can simply head for the emergency room of the best hospital in your area. If your problem is serious, you'll be admitted to the hospital within hours and you'll have specialists checking you out within 24 hours.
Tests will also be accelerated. Two years of waiting may be compressed into a few days in the hospital.
As you can imagine, this do-it-yourself approach to health care is increasingly popular in the United States. Emergency rooms are overwhelmed with people, most of whom don't need to be seen there. But the appeal of fast service brings patients in, much like the quick lube place with no lines.
Recently, more hospitals are getting smarter about this back door into accelerated care and now locate general-purpose outpatient clinics next to their emergency rooms. As you enter the emergency room area, a triage nurse figures out if you are well enough to go to the outpatient clinic and wait to be seen on a first-come, first-served basis.
This choice does speed things up for the patient by eliminating the need to wait to see your primary care physician when she or he next has an appointment opening. If such clinics can learn to affordably help people track down their health-care solutions faster and by spending less time, many patients will flock to these clinics.