What hospitals can learn from Amazon, Optum's telehealth expansions: 3 innovation execs weigh in

With Amazon and Optum both expanding into telehealth, some hospitals and health systems are looking at the disruptors for inspiration and potential partnerships.

In March, Amazon unveiled plans to expand its virtual medical service Amazon Care for its employees in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. The retail giant is aiming for the expansion to take effect this summer and is also offering the telemedicine services to other employers later this year.

Following Amazon Care's initiative, Optum in April announced its new virtual care product, named Optum Virtual Care. The company's leaders said during UnitedHealth Group's first quarter 2021 earnings call April 15 that the new product has been deployed in all 50 states.  

So where does this leave hospitals? Becker's Hospital Review asked three digital and innovation executives at health systems across the U.S. how they think Amazon Care and Optum's recent expansions will affect hospital virtual care.

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

Questions: What do Amazon and Optum's recent telehealth ventures mean for hospital telemedicine strategies? Have they affected your initiatives or strategies surrounding virtual care at your organization?

Jennifer Doorly Magaziner. Senior Director of Strategy and Digital Innovation at Boston Children's Hospital. Optum and Amazon's national telehealth expansions remind us that if a hospital is using telehealth to replicate their current care model, they are missing the mark. These players have scale and integration points across the care continuum, and the tech and analytics to draw insights on their members' health, habits and needs. We know that the lifesaving pediatric care and clinical innovation we provide is not easily replicated, but we also know that we need to continue to partner with disrupters ourselves. These partnerships not only enable us to reach more patient families in need – they push our thinking and drive our internal innovation efforts as well.

Nick Patel, MD. Chief Digital Officer at Prisma Health (Columbia, S.C.). External disrupters can serve as accelerators instead of threats if you have the right organizational support to grow your digital health strategy in an agile way. Healthcare routinely doesn’t move at the speed of business. Healthcare is hard, and no one group has figured it out. Health systems need to learn from these disruptors and on occasion even partner with them.

Richard Zane, MD. Chief Innovation Officer at UCHealth (Aurora, Colo.). Amazon and Optum's entrance into telehealth is expected, perhaps reaffirming but not particularly threatening or consequential in and of itself. The most important questions are: what's next; what is connected, what will be connected and how does it bridge the void between virtual and bricks and mortar, synchronous and asynchronous care and communication? Where do remote patient monitoring, device integration, prescriptive intelligence and human adjudication become intertwined, and how does this help patients navigate the maze of healthcare? And can this improve access, efficiency and quality while reducing cost? That would be something. Connecting a patient with a provider via a smartphone, tablet or computer is not the promise of virtual health. 


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