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Amazon’s focus on convenience and consumerism could change the patient experience.
Editor’s note: This is a column, not hard news. This analysis reflects the views of the author, not necessarily the publication.
Prime Day is in full swing, offering Amazon customers a chance to load up on the goods we didn’t know we wanted and others that have long occupied our wish lists but were just too expensive—until now. Prices are down, and our credit cards are out, all thanks to a marketing event whose sales last year beat out Black Friday. But this particular Prime Day brings more than just cheap camping gear. It offers a glimpse into healthcare’s future.
Key opinion leaders in health tech often point to Amazon as a model for how to use data and analytics to enhance the customer experience. The idea, as I noted above, is that Amazon is so skilled at capturing customer data and harvesting insights that it knows what we want, when we want it, before we realize we want it. This technological capability might be creepy or even invasive, but it is impressive and, if begrudgingly so, convenient. By following Amazon’s lead, healthcare organizations might advance precision medicine, value-based care and their everyday operations.
The larger conversation about Amazon, however, has leapt from backend data wizardry to consumerism’s role in healthcare. Rather than dwell on data, stakeholders have focused on the convenience and choice that Amazon’s tech has forged and how healthcare might do the same. These discussions often take place among government officials and up-and-coming businesses, hoping to cut red tape and breed competition, respectively. Patient-empowerment groups also want greater choice and access, though these advocates don’t always agree on how to do that.
Here’s the rub: These conversations are moot. The Amazonification of healthcare is inevitable, and it’s already happening. For evidence of this trend, look at how direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic-testing companies, from 23andMe and Orig3n to AncestryDNA, have leveraged Prime Day. All three companies have slashed the costs of their services roughly in half, placing great knowledge in the hands of consumers at affordable prices.
What’s more, these deals are raking in major earned media (including this story). The hype and excitement surrounding DTC genetic testing have spilled into major news outlets’ Prime Day coverage. People are interested in these technologies and applications, and they appear equally enthralled by Amazon’s influence on healthcare, whether or not they’re aware of the dynamic.
The thing is, genetic risk assessments are just the beginning. In time, for example, Prime Day could bring deals on out-of-pocket consultations with telemedicine companies. Perhaps blockchain networks focused on patient data ownership will drop the price of a DNA test or offer reduced membership fees. It’s possible that we might one day find deals on prescription drugs and medical devices, given Amazon’s expansion into the pharmacy.
First thing this morning, I called Paul Ketchel to pick his brain about Prime Day and healthcare. As the CEO of MDSave, which is sort of like an Amazon for traditional healthcare services, he understands the commercialization of healthcare better than many. He is, after all, betting that the industry and the world are heading in this precise direction.
“You’re seeing more innovation in the space right now than ever before,” Ketchel told me. “I believe that in 2019, there is going to be a complete explosion. I don’t know if these types of practices will become completely mainstream, but we’re going to be pretty close to that.”
Only to a degree did he credit healthcare’s rising levels of consumerism to changing regulations and advancing tech. The real motivator, he said, is patient demand. Ketchel said the path on which we’re walking leads to improved access to care and cost savings for patients, sometimes to the tune of 40 to 60 percent.
So, what does he think Prime Day 2020 might look like? We might see something like discounted diabetic care bundles, complete with blood tests, three checkups, and some glucose strips. Similar packages could exist for chronic back pain, diagnostic imaging and more. If there’s consumer demand, it could make its way to Prime Day.
Yes, this sort of shift is dramatically different than anything we’ve seen in healthcare. But it has indeed already begun. Take MDSave, which enables patients to search for local care and “buy” it online. Then there are 23andMe’s health-risk tests and Orig3n’s mind-and-body assessments. Diagnostics, imaging, patient data, targeted providers—it’s all becoming increasingly available through digital commercial platforms.
Of course, the consumerization of healthcare comes with potential problems, such as the overuse of healthcare resources and, in the case of DTC genetic testing, the flow of medical information without physician guidance. Ketchel argued that people won’t impulse-buy healthcare procedures, and Dr. Google is already causing headaches.
“The world of the internet has pulled the genie out of the bottle, and there’s no putting it back in,” he said of the DTC data issue.
Ketchel compared the situation to Napster and the scourge of illegal mp3 downloads in the early days of this century: The music industry and elected officials did everything they could to push back against digital theft, but it was too late. Then came Spotify, which didn’t restore past earnings to artists and labels but did manage to legitimize and monetize digital music and all but eliminate piracy.
And like online music, consumerism in healthcare is only going to get more popular as time goes on. We might not yet grasp its implications, and we might not do so for some time. But only those who hope for an alternate future can ignore healthcare’s likely role in Prime Days to come.
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