The first years of the 2020’s have seen some of the most powerful consumer-obsessed retail and tech giants make colossal healthcare bets. Amazon, CVS, Walmart and Walgreens have collectively invested hundreds of billions in the space, prompting concern (if not outright alarm) among healthcare leaders.
As St. Peter’s Health Chief Medical Innovation Officer Jonathan Griffin put it: “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.” Other thought leaders have said fundamental disruption is inevitable and “just a matter of time.”
Here’s a brief look at some of the most significant power plays retail giants are making to “consumerize” healthcare, their C-suite thought processes and the significance for providers.
Amazon: reinventing the current “crazy” healthcare experience
Arguably the most significant potential healthcare disruptor of the tech titans is Amazon. In addition to the recent purchase of OneMedical, the world’s most consumer-obsessed company has stacked their leadership bench with tenured former leaders of payers, providers and healthcare tech companies (Optum, Allscripts, Bon Secours, etc.) to head up its strategy. This augments their laser focus on consumer experience with deep industry expertise.
CEO Andy Jassy didn’t mince words in last November’s Amazon town hall when he said Amazon Care was one of the company’s most exciting initiatives because it could completely reinvent the current “crazy” healthcare experience:
“That experience, which has been the norm for the last, I don’t know, a hundred years, is not going to be the way it’s done moving forward,” he said. “What we’re trying to do with Amazon Care…radically changes that game.”
Amazon is putting forward an extremely bold plan encompassing what it calls “three legs of the stool” that will “bring together at-home testing, telemedicine, and pharmacy offerings…for a far superior customer/patient experience than most are accustomed to in primary care, and at a much better value.”
With powerful partnerships, healthtech startup incubation, potential moves into Medicare Advantage, talks with major payers and possible bets in more kinds of service (mental health, diabetes care, pharmacies, and more), Amazon is setting itself up to potentially take a major chunk out of the national health system market.
CVS: Netflix-like healthcare experience
In December, CVS indicated that it expects to increase revenue to $304 billion annually, largely from increases to primary care capabilities. It’s currently tracking above that goal on its way to offer a “Netflix-like healthcare experience.”
In a move similar to Amazon’s “three-leg” strategy, the Rhode Island-based healthcare giant just launched CVS Health Virtual Primary Care to connect CVS Health’s services, clinical expertise, and data for a more coordinated and consumer-centric healthcare experience. And like Amazon it’s making bets (more precisely 100 million of them) in early-stage healthtech companies; most recently, the retail pharmacy company acquired in-home healthcare company Signify Health.
“The future of health will be digitally led,” new CEO Karen Lynch said. “Our approach will drive higher levels of engagement, which will lead to better health outcomes. We will continue to invest to expand our leadership position and digitally connected experience…Every element of our strategy will be consumer first… [and it] will combine face-to-face and digital points of care to meet consumers where and how they want.” And to augment their capabilities they’re partnering with Microsoft to deliver more customized health recommendations when and where customers need them (like mobile alerts and reminders to schedule certain appointments or buy relevant healthcare products).
Contenders to remember: Walmart and Walgreens
Although Amazon and CVS have generated the most healthcare-related headlines over the last few years, reporters and analysts are by no means quick to write off their more brick-and-mortar associated competitors Walmart and Walgreens. With thousands of stores nationwide, the retailers have a significant in-person retail edge and both are making big investments of their own. Walgreens bought VillageMD while Walmart acquired telehealth provider MeMD to complement its in-person health centers.
“Our next phase of growth is our tech-enabled healthcare initiative,” Walgreens CEO Rosalind Brewer recently said. “As we build this out further, our choices will be guided by what our customers want as we continue to deliver solutions that meet their evolving needs, while leveraging our unique assets and capabilities in order to win.”
The future depends on provider response
The writing’s on the wall: providers must adapt to the impending consumer health revolution. These heavyweights will stop at nothing to delight customers conditioned by the digitally-enabled bar they’ve already set in nearly every consumer industry.
And many healthcare insight organizations are confirming what Cedar reported on in the 2021 Healthcare Consumer Study. NRC Health, one of the leading providers of in-depth customer insights in healthcare, reported that over half of consumers said their second most important driver for brand choice was convenience.
Press Ganey’s 2021 Consumer Experience Trends in Healthcare report added that, “Organizations must prioritize their digital consumerism strategies not only to keep up with current expectations, but to also successfully acquire and retain patients for years to come.”
And recently, the Academy pointed out that the key to an effective consumer engagement strategy was data, but health systems “remain light-years behind other industries on leveraging consumer data…More than likely, health systems will need to engage an outside vendor to help them operationalize their consumer strategy.”
The outcome of the consumer-centric digital health “arms race” is not yet written. But it’s clear that to grow market share, differentiate their brand, elevate patient perception and ensure long-term brand loyalty, lifetime value and overall durability, modern healthcare executives must make big bets in healthcare’s consumer-first digital future.