Most Important Day In Digital Health History

It has not yet been 20 years since the term Digital Healthcare was defined in the year 2000. Yet arguably the most important day in the history of Digital Health occurred on September 24th, 2019, and relatively few in the healthcare sector even took note. On this one single day, five simultaneous, but uncoordinated announcements were made that collectively signaled the beginning of a seismic shift in the healthcare sector.

The first announcement, in Forbes magazine, indicated that analysts at Morgan Stanley are predicting that healthcare may eventually become a bigger business for Best Buy than selling electronics. “Health monitoring services for seniors and other digital health initiatives … could generate anywhere between $11 billion and $46 billion. This study was commissioned because a non-healthcare company wanted to assess its potential ROI in the health sector and they found it to be significant.  The article also sheds light on the electronics giants’ intentions to offer healthcare services, not just sell health related digital electronics. Secondly, Walmart announced its plans to build a healthcare workforce to fill future healthcare jobs at Walmart and Sam’s stores. They will accomplish this by offering 7 health related college degrees and certificate programs for $1 per day. That’s a full bachelor’s degree for $365 per year, to build a healthcare workforce for stores, not hospitals. Thirdly, Humana & Walgreens announced an expansion of their full-service primary care clinics for seniors, some of which are in Walgreens stores.  This partnership, unlike the current versions of the CVS Health efforts located at CVS stores and Minute Clinics, are designed to offer full service primary care. Anything a traditional primary care provider can do in their office or hospital, will now be done in a Walgreens store. Fourth, Amazon launched “Amazon Care”, a 100% virtual health clinic with in-home follow-ups.  Here individuals can see a health provider via a mobile app or website. They can text a nurse on any health topic any time and if follow-up care is needed, a nurse goes to the home. The patient goes nowhere. If medicines are needed Amazon will prescribe medications within a few hours for immediate pick up or in some cases delivery by drone. No hospital involved or needed! And Finally, CVS Health announced the availability of their first purely digital therapy which uses an avatar to provide behavior modification therapy to treat insomnia. No doctor involved. No prescription needed.

Individually, these announcements could appear to be of relatively minor importance.  Collectively they also could be seen as of little importance because they do nothing to fundamentally change the practice of medicine. They do collectively however they do signal an effort, that if ultimately successful, would at scale, represent a seismic shift in the organization and delivery of healthcare. None of these solutions were conceived with the belief that the hospital is a critical or central cornerstone of healthcare service delivery. The fact that all five of these announcements occurred on the same day, by tech companies and payors, suggests the speed and seriousness at which the market is moving, compared to traditional healthcare-initiated practice and policy changes. Finally, the current national and international footprint and consumer reach of the companies involved in these announcements, makes them able to serve large numbers of consumers relatively quickly, should they choose to scale nationally and beyond. Traditional hospital CEO’s, health systems administrators and even astute medical providers should now be able to appreciate the reality that digital technologies will bring significant change to the historic organization and delivery of healthcare in addition to changing the practice of medicine and traditional business models.  Digital Health can no longer be credibly viewed as a fad, an app, or snake oil. In reality, it represents a significant, clear and present threat to the current healthcare system. Only those CEO’s who understand this reality and move aggressively to adapt, stand the best chance of surviving.  The good news is that the end of the story has not yet been written. With the right effort, some traditional healthcare organizations may not only survive, but become health and care leaders in the emerging digital economy.

In our next blog we will discuss the impact of Digital Health on the patient experience and what this will mean for the healthcare sector.

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