Where are retail healthcare offerings falling short? 3 hospital innovation execs weigh in

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In the past few years, big tech companies and retail pharmacy chains have scaled up their  consumer-minded healthcare offerings. These efforts, from companies such as Amazon, Walmart and CVS, promise to improve affordability and convenience for patients.

However, it's unclear whether these consumer-minded healthcare pushes have made it easier for Americans to access the care they need and stay healthy. Below, three hospital chief innovation officers discuss where these efforts may be falling short.

Editor's note: Responses have been edited lightly for clarity and style.

Daniel Durand, MD. Chief Innovation Officer at LifeBridge Health (Baltimore). I think these large companies are capable of doing great work in healthcare on behalf of both patients and society. However, what we have seen time and time again is that they lack the consistent focus over multiple years that is necessary to really get healthcare delivery right. For a variety of reasons, it appears next to impossible for Fortune 50 companies and "tech giants" to invest big, fail quietly and then keep on investing in healthcare delivery. 

After the first few years of stagnancy or failure, it becomes very hard to justify continued investment internally (and to public investors externally) into strategic initiatives within healthcare delivery, which typically have a capital efficiency that is below alternative sources of return on invested capital available to tech firms. As a result, these flailing healthcare efforts are often decommissioned from the strategic portfolio after two or three years. And then the process repeats itself all over again with a different internal owner and a new press release. Stated differently, healthcare is a much harder business than tech for these companies and their money goes much farther where they know how to use it.  

All that said, if I had to pick a large company most likely to "tough it out" and continue to invest and refine its thesis until it has a true impact in healthcare delivery, then I would probably pick Amazon. It understands the modern consumer as well as anyone and it seems to be refining its thesis, learning, and making investments that look progressively more sophisticated from the standpoint of experienced healthcare operators. Plus, its free cash flow is something like 100 times that of the average health system, so it has a lot of room for error.

Nick Patel, MD. Chief Digital Officer at Prisma Health (Columbia, S.C.). The retail marketplace continues to grow at an extraordinary pace. Although this offers consumers easy, convenient access, it falls short in long-term management of a patient’s health. It is not set up for longitudinal care over a patient’s lifespan, such as closing care gaps, close monitoring of uncontrolled chronic diseases, care coordination, transitional care visits, annual wellness visits, assisted living or hospice, just to name a few. 

It is also not closely linked to a local health system for continuity of care or escalation. It lacks a full lab or imaging capability in house. Routinely, medical records lack interoperability with other EHRs, which puts patients at risk of disjointed care. More healthcare system partnerships are needed for the patient to truly take advantage of the retail offerings.

Kolaleh Eskandanian, PhD. Chief Innovation Officer at Children’s National Hospital (Washington, D.C.). While I appreciate the creativity of some tech and retail giants in introducing certain care solutions, these services are provided in a very "retail-minded" fashion — the only way these giants understand consumers. As such, this consumerism approach has been in the context of sick care, not healthcare. 

It may address access and perhaps affordability, but health consumers also demand reliability and continuity of care and coordination, which could be achieved by linking these "retail-minded" services with health systems. Only then, we can ensure a total high-value patient experience.  

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