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How to make healthcare more like Amazon? It comes down to data and payer-provider collaboration

by Heather Landi | 

Anyone who has used an e-commerce site like Amazon knows how easy it is to get what you want—sometimes within hours—with the click of a button. With its phone calls, long waits for appointments and yet more waiting at the doctor's office, healthcare strikes a stark contrast. And executive leaders at healthcare providers and payers are well aware of the gap.

From wearable devices to apps, the healthcare industry is buzzing with strategies to deliver a more “Amazon-like” personalized and simplified patient experience. But plenty of barriers remain, according to a panel of executives from some of the top healthcare providers, payers and digital health startups in New York City.

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Among the lessons hospitals and health systems are trying to learn from Amazon: figuring out how to offer more options for virtual visits and developing digital platforms to better coordinate care after patients are discharged and improve patient engagement in their own care.

The magic about Amazon is that the company hides its complicated supply chain process from consumers, said David Kerwar, chief product officer and head of consumer digital innovations at New York City-based Mount Sinai Health System. “We flaunt our messy supply chain in front of customers. So, how do we create that veneer, so it feels more like magic?” Kerwar said.

The difference comes down to data, and the lack of data sharing, the panelists said.

“One of the gaps that we’re still facing is just the data aggregation,” said Rachel Winokur, chief business officer at insurance startup Bright Health. “Amazon has a slew of data about you as an individual and it’s all aggregated so they can run analytics. We don’t seem to be able to do that in healthcare, and part of that is because of our fragmented delivery system, part of it is the fragmented underlying technology infrastructure and part of it is the analytics just aren’t there yet. Once we can do that, there’s a lot we can do on top of that.”

A universal patient health record would help to address this problem, said Alan Murray, president and CEO of Empire BlueCross BlueShield at Anthem. “People die because we don’t provide access to data in a real-time basis. The most important thing we can do is figure out how to coordinate that care in real-time so we can directly impact and save lives,” he said.

Nat Turner, co-founder and CEO of Flatiron Health, an oncology-focused EHR software company, added that health systems need to be more open to partnering with startups around data access. “Medicare and some organizations, such as ONC (the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT) are working on ways to force this interoperability. It starts with the health systems and payers coming up with programs to partner with startups. There are examples out there, but it’s a long way from where we need to be.”

Beyond technological challenges, there are significant cultural barriers due to the historically contentious relationship between payers and providers, the panelists said. “Opening up those data exchanges, there’s a trust level there—what is the intent of wanting access to that information? At the end of the day, it’s also a financial trust issue; we’re trying to shave dollars off, and hospitals are trying to increase revenue, and we need to overcome that as well,” Murray said.

While there is ongoing debate as to Amazon’s potential impact to the healthcare industry, some of the panelists noted that the tech company already has disrupted the status quo. “They are upping the requirement around consumer experience; people will no longer tolerate waiting three hours to see a primary care physician,” Kerwar said. “Being able to use Amazon’s Alexa as a care manager to drop in on a recently discharged patient to see how they are doing, that’s going to be a powerful area.”

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