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Fire your stockbroker, fire your doctor

Posted Apr 11 2009 11:09pm
Is it yet time to fire your doctor?

I advocate a model of self-directed health, a style of healthcare in which individuals have the right to direct his or her own healthcare with only the occasional assistance of a physician or healthcare provider.

Healthcare would not be the first industry that converted to such a self-directed model. Remember travel agents? Only 15 years ago, making travel plans meant calling your travel agent to book your arrangements. This was a flawed system, because they worked on commission, thereby impairing incentive to search for the best prices. You were, in effect, at their mercy.

The investment industry is another such example, though on a larger scale.

Up until the 1980s, individual investment was managed by a stockbroker or other money manager. Stockbrokers, analysts, and investment houses commanded the flow of investment in stocks, options, futures, commodities, etc. Individuals lacked access to the methods and knowledge that allowed them to manage their own portfolios. Individuals had no choice but to engage the services of a professional investor. This was also a flawed system. Like travel agents, stockbrokers worked on commission. We've all heard horror stories in which stockbrokers churned accounts, making thousands of dollars in commissions while their clients' portfolios shrunk.

That has all changed.

Today, the process has largely converted to discount brokers and online services used by individuals trading and managing their own portfolios. Stockbrokers and investment houses continue, of course, but are competing for a shrinking piece of the individual investment market. Independent investors now have access to investment tools that didn’t even exist 20 years ago. Companies like E-Trade and Ameritrade now command annual revenues of approximately $2 billion each.

Travel agents, stockbrokers . . . is healthcare next? Can we convert from the paternalistic, “I’m-the-doctor, you’re the patient” relationship to what in which you self-direct your own healthcare and turn to the healthcare system only in unique situations?

I believe that the same revolution that shook the investment industry in the 1980s will seize healthcare in the future. In fact, the transition to self-directed health will dwarf its investing counterpart. It will ripple more broadly through the fabric of American life. Health is a more complicated “product,” with more complex modes of delivery, and more varied levels of need than the investment industry.

I predict that the emergence of health directed by the individual, just as the emergence of self-directed investment, will dominate in the coming years.

While I hope you've already fired your stockbroker, and I doubt that anyone on the internet still uses a travel agent, I wouldn't yet fire your doctor altogether. But I believe that we are approaching a time in which you should begin to take control over your own health and begin to reduce reliance on doctors, drugs, and hospitals.
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