What can healthcare learn from a fast-food restauranteur?

This profile of the Portland restaurant entrepreneur, Micah Camden, is a lesson in what could save healthcare from itself. Here is an entrepreneur who has single-handedly shaped the Portland cultural and business landscape through his food businesses. Key points include:

“He has a great eye for giving people what they want," says Kurt Huffman, owner of restaurant management company ChefStable. "And he has a palate that is really, really good at knowing what people want. “

Healthcare takeaway: in healthcare we are still way too focused on what the doctor wants or what the science establishment says is “right”. Instead, succeed by honing in on what the customer really wants. And it is often fairly simply in concept (but not easy to execute).

“And he's unafraid to take risks. He's had huge successes and huge failures, and he just keeps going.”

Healthcare takeaway: we are too afraid of failure. This fear is re-enforced by a culture that cloaks its fear and timidity in terms of “quality” or “safety.” There are many healthcare clinical delivery systems and innovations that can and should be launched ( and that would be unconventional but still safe). Some would be “huge failures”, but some would be “huge success.” We need to try, take risks, grow, or shut it down.

Little Big Burger, which he sold in 2015 for $6.1 million to the company that owns Hooters. He had Son of a Biscuit (closed; the concept didn't work), Hop Dog (closed; people aren't into hot dogs), Fats (closed; that's another story) and Boxer Sushi (closed; his chef moved away). He once owned all or a piece of a number of fine-dining restaurants like Yakuza, DOC and Beast, all of which are still open. But he left that kind of food behind long ago.”

Healthcare take-away: again, look at this impressive list of businesses. Many failed but each brought a unique approach to food, culture, and the experience. We need to try so much more in healthcare. But that requires risk-taking, creative, entrepreneurs with skin in the game.

“His approach to entrepreneurship, in general, is at odds with the city's usual way of doing things. “

Healthcare take-away: Healthcare imposes its usual way of doing things in many ways: longstanding, deeply entrenched culture, that begins with medical schools and post-graduate training the trains provides in the wrong way for the wrong job, as we have written about frequently here previously. Particularly challenging are the regulations which force all into a compliance and regulatory structure that forces homogenization without really improving quality or safety, but serve to protect the legacy players from competition. We need the equivalent of economic development zones for healthcare, where the right level of regulation could foster early startups, encourage concept risk-taking, and stimulate early growth, so ideas could be tested and gain a foothold.

“Matt Brown, co-owner of Bunk Sandwiches agrees that part of Camden's success is his ability to hang up his chef clothes and to approach food without culinary-school pretension.”

Healthcare take-away: healthcare is the same. Medical culture preensions need to be left at the door in order to foster creative disruption of a system which is failing. Common pretensions we heard through our decade of work on Zoom+Care include: people what to see a doctor not a PA or NP; people want a “relationship” with a PCP; people do not want to go a retail location for healthcare; you cannot stay on time and on schedule in primary care. All of these were self-protecting pretensions. Hang up your white jacket and look at things from a fresh perspective.

"I said, 'I only need to be a little bit better than the best one of these [dairy-free other products],’ he says.”

Healthcare take-away: not all successes start with complete originality. Growth starts with a unique insight about the customer, and then often builds off of current market infrastructure while implementing little deviations or improvements. Then a new product or service emerges which starts to catch on and grow rapidly.

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