Axios has a story about how retailers "are elbowing their way into health care delivery, pushing a customized consumer experience driven by digital health products … At its core, these companies are pulling together different tech-enabled services — urgent, primary, home and specialty care, pharmacy, and, in some cases, full integration with an insurer."
The story notes that "a more user-friendly portal to the health system could lead to more engaged patients and better access to care in underserved areas. It could even yield a sustainable model for profitably offering better care for less money.
"But the retailers' forays are prompting growing anti-trust and privacy concerns, as well as fears of further erosion of the doctor-patient relationship once considered central to coordinated care."
Prompting the story are a series of deals that reflect the retailers' interest and investment in health care. For example, Amazon bought concierge medicine provider One Medical for $3.9 billion. "CVS Health announced a plan to buy Oak Street Health, a primary care group focused on Medicare patients. The pharmacy giant already owns insurer Aetna, pharmacy benefit manager CVS-Caremark, home health company Signify Health and health care service brands MinuteClinic and HealthHUB. Also in January, Walgreens-backed primary care company VillageMD, scooped up more primary, specialty and urgent care investments, augmenting plans to open more than 500 full-service doctors' offices in Walgreens locations."
And, "Yesterday, Best Buy Health launched a hospital-at-home program with North Carolina-based Atrium Health. The tech retailer bought the remote patient monitoring company Current Health in 2021. Best Buy said it will provide patient education, its at-home care platform and devices, and technical support via specially-trained Geek Squad agents. It came on the heels of Walmart Health announcing last week that it plans to nearly double the footprint of its in-store clinics, which offer primary, behavioral health vision and dental care. In the fall, Walmart also inked a 10-year Medicare Advantage deal with UnitedHealth Group."
Typical of the mindset is a quote from Amazon CEO Andy Jassy: "If you fast forward 10 years from now, people are not going to believe how primary care was administered."
- KC's View:
The story makes the point that one of the goals is to create national models that resemble Kaiser Permanente, but on steroids.
I guess that's okay. I have friends in California who swear by Kaiser Permanente.
But I remain skeptical. When I think about CVS and Walgreens stores that I've visited, it makes me believe that they more likely will dumb down the health care industry and focus on all the wrong priorities, as opposed to making it better and more accessible. Plus, as Walgreens has demonstrated, its concerns may not match up with those of a percentage of its potential patients.
I worry that the emphasis will be on "tech-enabled," as opposed to "patient enabling."