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How Software and Retail Partnerships Can Shape the Future of Healthcare


Tech and business giants hope they can innovate solutions to healthcare’s greatest challenges.


It is no secret that the U.S. healthcare system is complex and often inaccessible for consumers. Rising costs at hospitals and private practices prevent many people from getting the care they need. According to a Health Care Cost Institute report, the price of emergency department visits increased 31 percent between 2012 and 2016. Additionally, the American Hospital Association reports a hospital closure rate of 30 per year. This leaves many patients, especially those living in rural and remote areas, with fewer choices for primary and ongoing care.

The challenges faced by traditional healthcare providers have in turn created opportunities for others in the field. Over the past several years, healthcare retailers have been seeking ways to enhance their own services and offer new alternatives to traditional healthcare. Private software companies have been stepping up to partner with these retailers in an effort to gain market share and help close gaps in healthcare for consumers. With the use of cloud technology and integrated software platforms, retailers can build a powerful infrastructure and gather key data while improving customer engagement levels and lowering healthcare costs.

Some of the latest companies to join forces are Walgreens Boots Alliance and Microsoft. In January, they announced a new strategic partnership with a goal of transforming healthcare delivery and developing new models and innovations to “advance and improve the future of healthcare.” This announcement follows the proliferation of other joint projects, including Amazon’s acquisition of the online pharmacy PillPack in 2018 and the inception of its own healthcare venture with Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan.

These partnerships may be viewed by some as a disruption of the status quo, and there are certainly questions about how successful they will be. However, the application of technology and software systems, combined with the reach and scope of the retail model, has the potential to improve access to care and lower costs by keeping patients out of more expensive traditional healthcare facilities. Private companies like Microsoft and Amazon are also seeing that their established technologies and data collection methods can be a boon for healthcare retailers looking to create value and provide additional services for their customers.

Digitally-driven solutions like virtual care and telehealth services are profoundly less costly for patients than seeking care at a hospital, emergency room or doctor’s office. The demand for these types of services is already on the rise, especially for patients who experience mobility issues or live in remote areas. But with an integrated software platform, retailers can offer a wider range of digital applications and services to engage with customers and become modern digital-physical health destinations.

Additionally, data collection means big business for retailers and a better experience for consumers. Data-driven insights help retailers gain a deeper understanding of their customers, leading to the creation of a more personalized healthcare experience. For example, using technology to monitor patients’ aftercare, or even chronic diseases and medication usage, yields meaningful data that healthcare retailers can leverage for self-care and health maintenance recommendations, with the ultimate goal of preventing hospital readmissions. By building a software infrastructure with preventive care in mind, retailers can provide solutions with their customers’ needs at the forefront.

Although the partnerships between retailers and software companies are fairly new, they signify a new era of healthcare. While some critics may deride nontraditional healthcare alternatives, it is clear that the challenges of rising costs and a complex healthcare system are not going away any time soon. To meet these challenges head on, the healthcare industry in the U.S. will have to learn how to apply and use software and technology to provide patients with more efficient, effective and affordable care. For now, retailers and software companies seem to be leading the way.

Mark Beckner is an enterprise solutions expert with over 20 years of experience. He is the founder of Inotek Consulting Group, an experienced programmer and developer and the author of numerous technical books. Is your company implementing the right business technologies for all stakeholders? Take Mark's Business Technologies Assessment to find out, here.

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