What does Amazon Care mean for hospitals? Execs from Geisinger and more answer

In February, Amazon Care rolled out its virtual health services nationwide and said its in-person services would be rolled out in more than 20 new cities in 2022. The announcement was one of many efforts to disrupt the traditional healthcare that the industry has witnessed from tech and retail companies over the past decade.

Services like Amazon Care have the potential to fill care gaps and improve Americans' health maintenance by prioritizing convenience and offering services such as telehealth, primary care and prescriptions. Here, four health system innovation executives explain what they think disruptors like Amazon Care mean for the healthcare industry.

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

Karen Murphy, PhD, RN. Chief Innovation Officer at Geisinger (Danville, Pa.): Healthcare is being disrupted by nontraditional companies offering virtual alternatives to brick-and-mortar primary care and urgent care. The attraction to consumers is ease of use and convenience. 

The healthcare industry is responding by developing digital strategies that are customer friendly. There will always be a need for inpatient complex heart surgery. However, it is incumbent on the healthcare industry to develop digital solutions to improve patient engagement with the health system and offer solutions that are effective and efficient. 

We should welcome the disruption. It will require us to engage in a different way. Healthcare delivery has always been built on relationships with our patients and communities. Healthcare providers must maintain and strengthen these relationships by combining effective digital engagement solutions with in-person care when appropriate.

Tom Andriola. Vice Chancellor of IT and Data at University of California Irvine and UCI Health: To understand Amazon, you have to look at their approach in obsessively focusing on the customer and how they go about developing and executing new strategies. If you understand this then you come to see that Amazon Care will certainly generate a level of success. Building upon customer expectations of frictionless interactions, they will find a portion of the market willing and able to pay for the convenience that comes with the services they've stood up. They will also continue to analyze customer interactions and feedback to expand off the core services they've launched. I fully expect that customers are likely going to appreciate the immediacy of connecting to a medical professional, as this is something people are experiencing in more and more aspects of their life.

The impact of Amazon Care will be different for different market segments. First, it's important to recognize that they are not trying to do "all of healthcare," but rather leverage places where they are coming from a position of strength, e.g., technology platform, supply chain and deep analytics capabilities. For the primary and urgent care space, it means potentially losing market share to a digital-first and consumer-convenient model. Even the in-person component could be dramatically different if you think about what Amazon has done with their homegrown Amazon Fresh grocery stores. For hospitals and health systems, it is a different calculus. To truly serve the patient/health consumers, Amazon will need (and are developing) strong connections back to the traditional healthcare ecosystem for more complex patient situations and diseases. It will be interesting to see how they choose to set up that aspect of their customer value chain and which pieces they choose to control directly. 

Jonathan Griffin, MD. Chief Medical Innovation Officer at St. Peter's Health (Helena, Mont.): It's no mystery that many people would prefer not to grace the halls of our facilities if they don't have to. Those who don't need hands-on care increasingly have a variety of convenient virtual options, and if your hospital is not one of them, you are likely losing a segment of your usual business as well as new opportunities that digital tools create. Lagging hospitals also may be seeing their service and payer mix shifting in all the wrong ways. 

To me, the signals are clear that hospitals can either get tech savvy and compete in these virtual service lines, find integrated partners who can or risk becoming obsolete. I expect to see progressive hospitals continue to sharpen focus on improving services that only can be done in a facility setting, and to rapidly implement brilliant digitization strategies that shift services out from facilities into cyberspace — balancing clicks with bricks and mortar. If hospitals can deploy tech that offers more comprehensive services and solutions integrated in one convenient place, I believe that employers and patients will keep coming back. 

Mark Hallman. Chief Innovation and Transformation Officer at JPS Health Network (Fort Worth, Texas): Amazon Care has the potential to be a true disrupter and further facilitate healthcare consumerism. The extent of services that Amazon Care is able to bundle together that further separate the patient from traditional care models is something that, as a healthcare executive, you could only dream of — in essence, how do you reinvent care delivery? Extent of services aligned with a reputable and identifiable brand will further facilitate consumer/patient association. Ultimately, I believe the concerns are the same as those that are stirred up when any competitor achieves hype — all with a caveat of "can it create stickiness?"

In this instance, Amazon has brand, infrastructure, deep pockets, aligned lives and a consumer base to market to that is worn out with status quo. From scheduling, symptom checkers/chat, telehealth, payment processing, in-home follow-up, to the broader Amazon services of grocery delivery, delivery of durable medical equipment, pharmaceuticals and supplements — all achieved from the comfort of a consumer's living room — it's a portfolio of wraparound services that traditional provider organizations are sprinting to get into place and really only comparable to an Optum/UnitedHealthcare. In an ideal world, they are a partner, and we explore the numerous ways we can work together to provide a higher quality of care at a sustainable price point. Ultimately, for hospitals, it falls back to quality of care and fine-tuning services to be "in-network" and a "provider of choice" and/or aligned in whatever way results in the highest quality of care back to our community.

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