Top health care leaders braved rain, hail, and flash flood warnings at this year’s J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco. The other thing they’re navigating? The downpour of new-entrant retailers in health care. Announcements at JPM and the recent CES 2023 conference in Las Vegas have confirmed the desire of folks including Amazon, Best Buy, CVS, and even Samsung to try to make health care simpler.
CVS is making a play to extend its arm into primary care and behavioral health. Walgreens is entering new markets, acquiring Summit Health. And Amazon’s recent acquisition of One Medical seems set to go through approvals.
All these investments, deals, and partnerships tout convenience. It’s the right impulse. But in 2023, convenience is not enough. If a solution is not transformational, addressing the U.S. health care system’s big and small problems at scale, there’s no room for it.
Americans have been promised simple access to health care for years, so it’s understandable if they lunge to enter the many new digital front doors. But too many of those doors lead to tiny, dead-end foyers with no real connection to — or understanding of — their health histories, insurance benefits, unique needs, or preferences.
This disconnect creates convenience without connectivity and more confusion, which is a frustratingly familiar scenario for people seeking care. The pressing need for anyone seeking health services is for something far more comprehensive, valuable, and long-lasting, something that goes beyond making health care convenient to making it foundationally better. For everyone.
I believe that integration is the innovation that counts now.
Successful long-term players in health care will take the steps needed to rethink the whole system and nail the problems they can uniquely solve, in the channels where they can drive the most impact. That’s certainly the focus of Included Health, the company I lead. We feel we can make the biggest difference by connecting people to the right care at the right time, whether virtual or in-person, in a way that is fully informed by their insurance coverage, health history, preferences, identity, and needs.
Here’s the thing: Too many shiny new offerings further fracture the health care experience. Anything less than a combination of clinical leadership, care delivery, technological expertise, and consumer-oriented service, all measured by a healthy dose of patient-reported outcomes, won’t work. It won’t overcome the out of control costs, inaccessibility, inequity, and just plain poor experiences that too many people face.
To drive true cross-industry and cross-country change, innovators in health care need to avoid distractions and focus on the actual antidote to complexity, fragmentation, and individual isolation: an experience for people that encompasses their whole health and whole life. Half of Americans are confused by their health insurance benefits and, even if they could understand them, 84 million live in places with primary care shortages.
New retailers looking to enter health care may mean well, promising personal health care delivered to one’s phone, watch, or doorstep. But people need so much more than that. They need guidance. This means advocacy, accurate and empathetic care interactions, and one-on-one support for navigating it all: the everyday, the urgent, and the more complex. People are tired of having to connect the dots. To fill in their primary care physician, if they have one, about their experience at urgent care or about the text conversation they had with a therapist through their workplace health benefits. Done right, integration will have an enormous impact: better health at lower cost. Included Health recently compiled data showing that this kind of approach can reduce health care costs by 6% to 10%.
Digital solutions alone are not enough to reinvent health care. Electronic health records have created chaos. First-generation telehealth has failed to reduce the burden on health care providers, creating more barriers for patients trying to access their own health information. Early personal health tracking devices did not lead to promised health improvements. Any solution that fails to leverage data and connectedness, to predictively and personally deliver care, is a well-meaning short-term play. It may be good for short-term revenue, but it’s bad for health.
So let’s think long-term. This is bigger than convenience. People need health care designed, and proven, to treat them better.
Owen Tripp is the co-founder and CEO of Included Health, an integrated navigation and virtual care company.
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