Necessity is the mother of invention, according to ancient Greek philosopher Plato. But we might argue that wants — not just needs or necessities — are giving rise to a wave of new inventions in healthcare’s opportunity era. In other words, consumers need good care, but they also want convenience, affordability, reliable information, etc.

That’s why it’s no surprise that we keep hearing stories about innovations that were devised by healthcare consumers themselves. Patients as disrupters? Absolutely!

For example, a patient with diabetes recruited a software engineer to help her fashion an insulin-adjustment system made from off-the-shelf hardware paired with an insulin pump. You might know the invention as the artificial pancreas. That inventor has gone on to become a national advocate for patient-driven, patient-designed research.

In California, a computer science graduate with Crohn’s disease created an online community of patients who swap information about the trial-and-error process of managing the disease. From prescription medications to dietary tweaks, the site’s more than 10,000 users rate the good and the bad with a simple star system. It’s become a go-to resource for the patient population to build their collective knowledge.

These aren’t the only examples. MIT researchers report there are as many as 1 million patient innovators across the globe. (MIT Sloan Management Review)

This consumer movement makes worlds of sense. Patients who are in pain or endure lifestyle limitations from their health conditions are highly motivated to solve those problems ASAP. They desperately want to improve their quality of life.

And the investment of time, money, and energy by the innovators can be most rewarding when they’re able to help others with the same diseases and conditions. Patient inventors aren’t focused on ROI or holding proprietary, commercial interests. In fact, MIT reports that 90 percent of their inventions are open source.

Patients don’t begin with P&L potential or customer acquisition strategies. They begin with what they want.

Redesigning the patient relationship

When patients can’t find what they want and need from the current healthcare market, they’re clearly open to going off the grid. Technology is enabling them to do so, and online channels are extending their networks.

This is the perfect opportunity for traditional healthcare organizations to re-engineer their relationships with consumers and start bringing them to the table as market consultants. Consider the responses a health system might hear when asking chronic condition patients for their healthcare wish lists.

Perhaps patients would ask for simple things, like better form to balance out healthcare’s notorious bent toward function (starting with those unattractive hospital gowns, perhaps). Or maybe they’d want affordable broadband access so they might be able to take advantage of telehealth visits at home.

There are plenty of difficult issues in healthcare that will be extremely hard to solve. But there are also plenty of easy ones like access to healthy meals, transportation to follow-up appointments, and recovery at home. Perhaps it’s just a matter of distinguishing which problems aren’t being solved.

Our take: As we’ve said before, there’s plenty of room for improvement in patient satisfaction. Healthcare isn’t even close to the everyday consumer-focused performance of retail, entertainment, and a host of other industries. Wants and needs must both figure into the solutions.