Amazon is Coming, Here are the First Steps to Prepare
By Derek Baird
Derek Baird, MBA is SVP of Avia of Chicago, IL.
Amazon made another high-profile hire last week, further raising the anxiety level of traditional healthcare providers. Dr. Gupta (no, not that Dr. Gupta) has impressive credentials and joins a cast of other smart hires. Though, despite Business Insider’s clickbait headline, I’m not ready to agree with the media experts (?) who quickly posited that this hire means Amazon Care will be available to the public any day now. However. whether it’s tomorrow or in 2022, most predict that the services Amazon is testing with employees will make their way to Prime customers.
Quick refresh: In September, Amazon announced a virtual medical clinic called Amazon Care for use by employees. The services include nurse chat, video visits, and house calls. One month later, they announced the acquisition of Health Navigator, a tool that provides online symptom checking and triage tools to route patients to the appropriate care setting. It’s no secret that Amazon is planning to provide convenient, technology-enabled options for consumers to find and receive physical or virtual care.
Amazon Care services will someday show up next to my book recommendations. Health system executives need to be planning as if that’s going to happen sooner rather than later. That plan must include an aggressive roadmap (and sizable accompanying investments) to develop and scale a digital front door.
ICYMI, digital front door became a buzzworthy phrase in provider-side healthcare in 2019. The digital front door includes consumer-facing capabilities, not hidden behind a friction-filled portal login, to support easy access to information or care. Core components include physician search, online scheduling, video visits, and virtual triage.
A key reason to develop a digital front door is to attract the increasingly large group of consumers who don’t care about their parents’ advice, physician credentials, or US News awards. They don’t have a PCP, and above all, they value convenience. Many of our health system clients believe three points of commercial market share are at risk, depending on whether they delight or disappoint consumers with the convenience of their front door offerings. CFOs can quickly do the math, where that 3% may be the difference between being in the red or black.
Back to Amazon. A health system’s competition no longer just includes the neighboring health system and the upstart urgent care operator in town. The list is long and growing: Optum, CVS, Walmart, virtual solutions like 98point6, and (soon) Amazon. These tech-enabled competitors will change the expectations and requirements of consumers. If a traditional provider organization falls too far behind, consumers will make choices based on convenience and develop habits that take them elsewhere. Now is the time to become known as the friendly, convenient, transparent place to seek care.
This doesn’t mean another year of dabbling. Many health systems have rolled out a physician finder, video visits, or online scheduling. The results have been underwhelming, in large part because the pieces and parts don’t fit together in a way that supports a seamless consumer journey.
The digital front door is a complicated creative assembly project that requires multi-year focus and investment from many departments: IT, marketing, strategy, innovation, patient experience, and more. If a health system leadership team doesn’t have a robust plan and roadmap, now’s the time to rally colleagues, allocate funding, and get to work.
If health systems don’t get ahead of the digital convenience curve, the impact isn’t just losing flu visit volume. One downstream effect will be further fracturing an already broken continuity of care. It will be much harder to deliver effective population health management when patients are increasingly “seeing other people” who don’t aren’t aware of, or don’t care about, the patient’s chronic condition.
Many health systems are already taking action to make sure this doesn’t happen. Others need to get organized and mobilized ASAP to build their own front doors, plus develop plans to work well with the other doors that consumers will use, e.g. Google, Amazon, and Yelp.
Note: I believe Walmart is a more formidable competitor than Amazon, but we will save that for another day.