By Sachin Kalra, vice president of customer success, healthcare, Infostretch.
Are people who use health services patients, or are they health consumers? The reality is that in a world where consumer services can be accessed at the push of a button, our expectations about healthcare have changed. How a healthcare company engages with its patients has increasingly become an indicator of how well they are driving communication, service and value for their consumers.
The “Amazon Prime” mindset might at first seem at odds with traditional health systems, which are often bureaucratic, slow and costly. However, the consumerization trend can be an opportunity for better engagement and competitive differentiation.
If there is one thing health companies have a lot of, it’s data. Learning how to leverage and analyze data better could hold the key to unlocking greater value for consumers in terms of improved outcomes and engagement, but also in terms of operational efficiencies. For many organizations, however, pivoting their systems to deliver patient-centric care means they will need to improve the way they leverage digital technologies.
Prioritizing patient experience (PX)
Great customer experience often involves condensing a hugely complex system into a few simple steps that allow consumers to get where they need to be quickly and intuitively. In healthcare, the array of options is huge, involving a wide range of patient requests, potential ailments and resulting treatments. Getting it wrong can have serious, negative health consequences. On the other hand, getting it right enables patients to access treatment faster, resolve health issues more quickly and be better informed along the way. Intelligent triage and smart scheduling are just two ways that health companies can improve how they engage with their patients.
There’s been a spike in ERs using intelligent triage, accelerated by the pandemic, but this tool does not need to be confined to emergency situations. Intelligent, AI-based triage starts with enabling patients to make contact in a way that best suits them – smartphone, landline, text, desktop or via a virtual assistant. From there, a patient’s identity is verified and the system collects relevant information about their condition before recommending the most appropriate channel to resolve the inquiry.
Smart scheduling completes the initial intelligent triage phase with an appropriate action. This could be booking an appointment, something relating to claims or prescriptions, or recommendations for ongoing self-care. In cases where appointments are required, these can of course be in person, but where appropriate on video, over a chat platform or by phone. Crucially, all the information from this virtual encounter is entered into the patient chart to ensure a complete and up-to-date view of the patient.
Rethinking the patient experience in this way lowers waiting times for patients while ensuring faster, more convenient access to services. Health organizations also reap big benefits, with potential savings of more than 20% on running costs due to the elimination of manual processes and resource allocation.
The US healthcare system has serious systemic problems. While the cost of healthcare continues to escalate, access to care is more difficult than ever. As a country we are getting sicker, chronic conditions are on the rise and, for the first time, longevity may be on the decline.
While the usual constituents grapple with these problems, Amazon has quietly put together a syndicate including Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan to provide better and more affordable healthcare for its combined 1.2 million workers.
The joint effort between Amazon and Berkshire is called Haven and makes sense because many companies of size today are self-insured to provide healthcare at lower costs. But this is different. Jeff Bezos, Jamie Dimon and Warren Buffett seem to be personally involved in the development of Haven. So, what could they possibility have up their sleeves?
At the same time, many Democrats running for president are promising single payer health system (Medicare for all) as the solution to controlling costs and providing quality health care for everyone. Republicans argue that this is socialism and will result in unacceptable increases in taxes that will ruin our economy.
While politicians debate, Amazon’s real objective may be to create a health payer to rival all payers with tens of millions of Amazon Prime Members as health plan members.
With Amazon’s buying power, scale and capabilities, the e-commerce giant could create a health payer offering that could render the need for a single payer system moot.
The company’s buying power and clout representing tens of millions of members allows it to negotiate the lowest prices on the planet for drugs and medical treatment. Who knows … maybe Amazon will build its own drug manufacturing laboratories?
And with its fulfillment and shipping capabilities, it could deliver prescriptions to your door (maybe by drone) almost immediately, eliminating the need to ever visit a pharmacy again.
With its rapidly evolving tech platform, including Alexis and health monitoring devices, it could monitor health conditions and contact providers before medical emergencies occur.
What’s more, Amazon could take telemedicine and concierge medicine to another level with connectivity to providers anytime, anywhere, without the red tape that makes healthcare so difficult to access today. And it might even buy large health systems and shake them up by eliminating red tape while dramatically improving access to quality care. Even identity cards from doctors can change in the future. You can expect doctors IDs and specialist ID lanyards turning into digital identifiers in the future.
Lastly, let’s not forget Amazon’s ability to harness artificial
intelligence and machine learning to deliver better, smarter, more efficient
health care without ever talking to a doctor.
Bernie Sanders may be right when he argues that access to quality healthcare is a basic human right. But given all the roadblocks, lobbying and politics blocking the way to a government single payer system, it just may be delivered by Jeff Bezos rather than Uncle Sam. Hold on to your seats – healthcare is about to be disrupted big time.
With AI increasingly playing a role in healthcare, and the cost of insurance continuing to rise, it’s no surprise that people might be feeling a little bit disillusioned and confused as to what to expect this year. However, as the pace of technology continues to accelerate, as does the political situation, it’s all the more reason to keep a sharp focus on where the technology and healthcare in general is heading.
Last year, the new Apple Watch proved that it could potentially save lives by offering an ECG function, and Google has, of course, acquired its own technology with DeepMind. While Facebook had previously dipped its toe in the market with plans of sharing data with health organizations, it has pulled its ambitions after concerns over its use of user data.
Amazon to be involved with healthcare
We all use Amazon for last-minute Christmas presents, book wish-lists and the odd bits and bobs, and Amazon Prime has proven to be a hit among its regular customers. Citi analyst Mark Mary predicted that their subscribers will reach 275 million, up from 101 million at the end of 2017. With that in mind, it might not necessarily come as a surprise that Amazon Prime will not only continue to exist and grow in its current form, but also for healthcare. According to Anurag Gupta, a VP at tech analyst Gartner: “Amazon likes to target two kinds of industry: the first is where they see an opportunity to reform, where it’s not the most user friendly of industries, where there’s a lack of trust. In the case of healthcare, intermediaries like pharmacy benefit managers, drug wholesalers and distributors are ‘sucking a lot of money out of the system.'”
According to Gupta, the reason a lot of big tech industries have such a big focus on healthcare is because, like any commercial business, they have their eyes on any holes in the current market. Unfortunately, the current gap appears to be customer service. Giants like Amazon have experience in customer service where some healthcare brands don’t, which means they are quickly honing in on that market.
According to ZD.net, Amazon Web Services is planning on extending its Comprehend language processing service to medical records. It reported that in a blog post, Amazon Web Services claimed that it was also planning on building a new version that could account for “medical terms, anatomy, conditions, medications and various healthcare terms.” The news site also reported that Amazon had also acquired PillPack, a company that delivers medicines to people’s doors and refills their prescriptions.
Although Amazon isn’t the first to join this market, they certainly seem to be getting everything in order to correspond with their other services.
Petitions to end work-based health insurance
Although half of all Americans get their health insurance through their employers, this still leaves half of US citizens having to cover the costs themselves. Some US citizens even have to take on two or more jobs or get help from wealthier relatives to cover the cost. More than ever, people are campaigning for this to end, as it currently stands as a block (with the exclusion of the current government) to people from potentially receiving healthcare from the government. For those enjoying the benefits of full-time employment and an employer that covers them, 83 percent said their insurance was excellent or good. For those who are not sponsored by an employer for their healthcare, unexpected emergencies can be costly. Investigating alternative finance options and research may be the best option for some.
IBM continues to push Watson
IBM’s CEO Ginni Rometty announced in an interview in January that IBM Watson Health is still “a very important part” of their business. Rometty re-iterated how well their oncology software after it was seemingly being publically criticized for not being up to scratch. She insisted on Watson’s success during a Keynote speech at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, despite turning down interviews with other magazines.
STAT news reported some alarming quotes from IBM’s health division, as well as a number of employee layoffs. A big criticism of this software that recommends cancer treatments is that it prioritizes American treatment methods. That said, IBM has reportedly said that it plans to add regional treatment guidelines as well as some expanded real-world data on patient outcomes.