CVS, Amazon and the ‘mass freak-out’: How tech is reshaping the healthcare industry

In October, one thing pretty regular occurred: CNBC reported that Amazon may disrupt yet one more industry, prescription drugs. The tech large was contemplating selling prescription drugs on-line.

“Since then, the market’s actually type of gone loopy. There’s been type of mass freak-out,” stated Christina Farr, CNBC’s well being and know-how journalist, who first reported on Amazon’s curiosity in prescription drugs.

Corporations throughout the healthcare industry began scrambling, making an attempt to determine how they may compete with the pure market power of Amazon. This week, one firm confirmed us how they’re planning to struggle again: CVS, the largest pharmacy chain in the U.S., reached a deal to buy insurance giant Aetna for $69 billion.

That deal and the tendencies behind it are a case research in how know-how giants like Amazon — and know-how itself — are altering healthcare in the United States. Whereas corporations argue these adjustments shall be a boon to sufferers, there are nonetheless severe considerations about how they’re occurring.

We discover these points on this episode of GeekWire’s Well being Tech Podcast. Pay attention under, follow the series here, and proceed studying for the full story.

A foremost focus of the CVS/Aetna deal is creating group care hubs in CVS shops and different CVS areas, the place prospects can see a health care provider, ask questions on their insurance coverage, decide up their prescription — and perhaps purchase a Eating regimen Pepsi whereas they’re there. The businesses are additionally planning to start out new digital well being initiatives, like in-home well being monitoring.

The hubs are an extension of the walk-in clinics which have been sprouting in drugstores and on avenue corners for years. Aaron Katz, a professor in the College of Washington Public College of Well being, says these clinics have come and gone in the healthcare market.

He additionally says there are a couple of causes these group clinics are enticing to corporations.

“Considered one of them is an try and seize sufferers — to seize a market of sufferers — and then to have the ability to funnel them to, for instance, hospitals,” he stated.

CVS doesn’t personal any hospitals, however they’ve one more reason to need folks strolling via the door: Amazon.

Drug shops have been dropping prospects to on-line shops like Amazon for years, and that development will solely velocity up if prospects begin turning to the internet for his or her prescriptions. The group care hubs may appeal to extra individuals who will purchase extra of their items and prescriptions at a CVS retailer.

Dr. Ivor Horn, a pediatrician and the chief medical officer of well being know-how firm Accolade, stated having an built-in care hub also can profit sufferers, or as she calls them, customers.

“It’s at all times nice for a shopper to know that they’ll go to 1 location and they’ll have extra extra details about themselves, and the individual that’s caring for them has the info that they want at the proper time. The precise info, the proper time, in the proper place is what’s actually key,” she stated.

So how will the change truly impression sufferers? And what can we count on from the well being industry as tech continues to depart its mark?

CVS and Aetna, together with different corporations, have argued that vertical integration in well being will assist make the system extra environment friendly and decrease prices for sufferers. That reasoning makes some sense, however Katz says we must be skeptical.

“Our expertise up to now with every kind of mergers and consolidations is that’s virtually by no means the case. One purpose is that bigger, bulked up supplier techniques are higher in a position to negotiate greater costs,” he stated. “It’s considerably counterintuitive, however that’s the approach it really works in the healthcare system.”

The consolidation additionally offers the corporations immense energy over how folks get care.

“I believe a chance can be that individuals who have Aetna insurance coverage could also be restricted to CVS pharmacies, in order that reduces the selection that sufferers have,” Katz stated.

A 3rd, and even greater concern, has to do with the high quality of care at the group hubs CVS is planning.

As sufferers have began to make use of new neighborhood clinics and telemedicine companies, there’s been an increase in transactional medication: A affected person seeing a health care provider for a one-time session, with none established relationship or historical past.

“Transactional relationships with well being care suppliers, I believe, are very problematic,” Katz stated. “The analysis that’s been occurring for many years fairly properly reveals that each sufferers’ experiences with well being care and the outcomes of that care are associated to continuity. So, the data {that a} supplier has of you as a person, of your life, of your life circumstance, and your historical past going again. And an episodic interplay with a supplier doesn’t carry that historic data in any respect.”

There’s purpose to be involved that retail clinics, like the ones CVS has deliberate, will make extra transactional medication the norm. However know-how can also maintain the key to countering that development.

One apparent instance is communication: Tech means we will message or electronic mail our major docs for small well being considerations as a substitute of ready days for an in-person appointment.

“I believe typically there’s a false impression that know-how is a silver bullet and that it’s going to unravel every part and that it’s going to take over,” Horn stated. However in actuality, “healthcare is about service, and know-how supporting and facilitating that service.”

Horn says one other good instance is offering docs extra information on their sufferers, together with issues like their housing and monetary state of affairs.

“We’re utilizing that to personalize the approach that we offer care such that I, as a supplier, have info in entrance of me, and I can say, ‘these are higher choices for this affected person.’ As a result of there’s information that’s pulled from hundreds and thousands and thousands of assets that I — as a person, as a human — can’t probably comprise,” she stated. “It implies that I don’t need to comprise every part in my mind and an individual is not restricted in my care by what I can keep in mind.”

Expertise is additionally a driving power behind a few of the largest shifts occurring in healthcare as we speak. One is a shift away from treating sufferers solely after they get sick — in different phrases, pondering extra about wellness and prevention to cease folks from getting sick in the first place.

Earlier than the merger, Aetna truly thought-about overlaying the Apple Watch as a healthcare system as a result of it could assist detect ailments. Horn additionally identified that persons are utilizing Amazon’s Echo gadgets to remotely monitor growing older relations, serving to them keep at house longer, which is a confirmed option to preserve aged sufferers more healthy.

“I believe know-how is permitting us to try this,” Horn stated. “It’s permitting us to grasp what occurs when persons are outdoors the 4 partitions of a healthcare constructing.”

One other essential development is the approach healthcare is paid for. For many years, the industry has used a “fee-for-service” mannequin, charging sufferers and insurance coverage for each service they get. However more and more, well being insurers are demanding proof of higher affected person outcomes earlier than they pay up, one thing referred to as a “fee-for-value” mannequin.

Expertise is instrumental to documenting affected person outcomes and making that system work. It additionally helps suppliers pinpoint the actual causes behind expensive well being encounters like ER visits.

Coming full circle, Farr, the CNBC reporter, stated the fee-for-value mannequin truly encourages extra consolidation amongst well being corporations, notably to deal with sufferers’ lives outdoors the healthcare setting.

“How do we all know whether or not or not this affected person, after we ship him house, has the proper type of housing, and social work, and the care that they should guarantee that they keep on these meds and don’t find yourself in the ER? I believe with the intention to present that kind of a service, you do must be extra built-in,” she stated.

The wheels are already spinning, so to talk, with regards to tech in healthcare. And whereas there are actual considerations to be addressed, there is additionally an immense alternative to make constructive change in the system.

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