What do Amazon, Apple, Best Buy, Google and Samsung have in common? The answer’s closer to your business—and customers—than you may realize. See what these giants are up to.
CARVING THEIR PIECE OF THE PIE
A look at what five organizations (of the many) are doing in healthcare
By Michael Wayne
Most of us recognize that those who don’t adapt to change are prone to extinction. Yet, we are often shocked when we see that extinction actually play out. Well, I tend to be. In 2019, retail giants Barney New York, FTD, Forever 21, and Fred’s were among the throngs of institutions that filed for bankruptcy. For those of you who are old enough to remember Kodak, Blockbuster, Schwinn, Radio Shack, TG&Y, A&P, B. Dalton, Tower Records, Waldenbooks, or Howard Johnson’s, did the thought even occur to you during their heydays that at some point they would simply be gone? Instead of idly waiting for the world to pass them by, there are brands looking to expand anywhere they can … including healthcare.
Welcome to 2020. The United States is nearing the 10th anniversary of the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—commonly known as Obamacare. With the start of this year, we are also nearing a presidential election that promises to put healthcare at the forefront in a variety of ways. One trend that you may have not considered is the new players that may emerge to reshape the market … and just because they are new players in the world of healthcare doesn’t mean that they are new players you haven’t heard of before or actually know well.
The insurance industry is not immune to the effects of change. Just as others are finding ways to exist and thrive in healthcare, we must do the same.
While they may be relatively young, Lyft and Uber have already entered the healthcare market by partnering with hospital systems, electronic medical record companies, and others to provide transportation to hospitals for patients. Others have figured out there are niches and are looking for B2C and B2B offerings for consumers. As an agent, you likely don’t have bandwidth to research them all. So, here’s a look at just five of them.
This seems obvious because it feels like Apple is everywhere. CEO Tim Cook previously stated that the healthcare market makes the smartphone market look small. Apple already entered healthcare with wellness serving as a pillar of its app, services, and wearables strategies. In 2018, the giant introduced Apple Health Records and the Apple Watch with a single-lead ECG.
In short, Apple wants to construct the first healthcare platform that is third-party friendly, one that has at its core the personal health record. Only Apple knows what its endgame is, but it seems to be tracking toward primary care services. With its various offerings, the company is poised to control a large portion of patients’ journeys before they even get to a primary care physician.
That potentially makes Apple a patient’s “medical suite” prior to entering a hospital system.
Last September, Amazon launched Amazon Care. Offered to its employees in and around the Seattle area, this pilot healthcare service includes virtual and in-person care. Highlights include telemedicine via app, chat, and remote video; follow-up visits; and prescriptions delivered right to an employee’s home or office.
Apple actually offers something similar, but Amazon Care’s impetus came from a joint project with J.P. Morgan and Berkshire Hathaway to collectively take care of employee healthcare needs. Each wanted an answer to their needs “free from profit-making incentives and constraints.” Those incentives and constraints, naturally, are the life’s blood of private insurance companies that service corporate clients.
So, in addition to Amazon, we also have in this example a financial institution and Warren Buffett muscling into healthcare.
Last November, The Wall Street Journal reported that Google “is engaged with one of the U.S.’s largest health-care systems on a project to collect and crunch the detailed personal-health information of millions of people across 21 states.” Code-named “Project Nightingale,” this “appears to be the biggest effort yet by a Silicon Valley giant to gain a toehold in the health-care industry through the handling of patients’ medical data.”
And, yes, Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft Corp. are all angling to do the same. Project Nightingale is a partnership with St. Louis-based Ascension, a Catholic group of some 2,600 hospitals, doctors’ offices, and other facilities. Data is being shared at an increasing rate and includes lab results, diagnoses, hospitalization records, and other information that in total makes up a patient’s complete health history.
Yep. You read that right—Best Buy. As part of its drive to reach $50 billion in annual revenue within five years, the electronics firm is targeting the United States’ aging population. On average, two out of every three seniors have more than one chronic health condition. These seniors may also desire to stay at home and not live in assisted living.
In addition to already having established Best Buy Health, last year the retailer hired a physician to serve as its chief medical officer. According to a September USA Today article, by 2025, Best Buy “hopes to provide five million seniors with health monitoring services.” These can range from strategically placed home sensors to neck-worn pendants.
As of the fourth quarter 2019, Best Buy was already providing such services to one million individuals. To help reach its goal and work toward the future, in 2018, Best Buy acquired GreatCall, which offers seniors cell phones, wearables, and other devices. Last May, it bought Critical Signal Technologies, a health services firm involved in remote patient monitoring and more. And, in August, it purchased the predictive healthcare technology business BioSensics. The latter included hiring that organization’s data science and engineering team.
In 2017, Samsung Electronics started its push into the digital healthcare market, moving past just creating medical devices and parts in a separate affiliate that produced products for ultrasounds, digital radiography, in-vitro diagnostics, and portable CTs. The company’s innovation in healthcare has resulted in Samsung Medison, with more than 1,600 employees working in 100-plus countries … and it’s only a part of the overall umbrella of Samsung Healthcare.
Samsung Healthcare, according to its website, is “committed to create a new future for medical professionals and patients with a mission to bring health and well-being to people’s lives. Integrating its leading expertise in display, IT, mobile and electronics, our vision is to bring confident diagnosis, cost-effective solutions and improved workflow to customers.” In 2017 alone, Samsung named 11 healthcare-related startups and businesses where the Samsung Strategy and Innovation Center had made investments.
Long-term, Samsung is looking to evolve wearable products as professional medical devices that can conduct medical checkups in advanced ways. By pairing biotech with data, new business opportunities will be plentiful. Of course, this long-term strategy has been part of Samsung for some time now. In fact, six years ago, the Galaxy Note 4 featured an oxygen sensor.
The insurance industry is not immune to the effects of change. Just as others are finding ways to exist and thrive in healthcare, we must do the same. With the sheer number of players entering the healthcare arena and the products and services that will most certainly materialize, one advantage those in the industry can gain is meeting employers’ needs to figure out what doesn’t work, what works specifically for them, and what is beneficial and cost-effective for individual employee populations. Those who don’t can begin thinking about adding their mastheads to the pile of defunct organizations that failed to adapt.
Michael Wayne is a freelance insurance writer.