Amazon: Force the healthcare system to become patient-centric

February 6, 2018

The announcement that Amazon will work with JP Morgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway to create a new healthcare organization for employees has health plans and providers running scared. Initial press coverage has focused on the impact of this group on the market value of CVS, United Healthcare and the like –but how many people really care about that?

CareCentrix CEO John Driscoll has the right idea when he suggests that Amazon should compel provider organizations to put the patient first –for real, not just rhetorically. His three specific suggestions are good ones: mandate self-service scheduling, introduce  a universal patient portal, and improve the quality of provider reviews. As simple and straightforward as those sound, they would require Amazon and its partners to overcome serious resistance. It will be fascinating to watch what happens.

Assuming Amazon can make those basic but challenging changes come to pass, I have two additional, ambitious suggestions to help patients:

  1. Ensure that patients receive clear, consistent, actionable follow-up information when they leave a doctor’s appointment or are discharged from the hospital.
  2. Use the full set of information available about a patient to anticipate their needs and help them navigate the system.

The first idea is a simple one, which should be happening anyway, and occasionally does. The challenge is to get the provider system to care enough about what happens upon discharge and provide the tools, training, information and support to enable more seamless and empowering transitions. I was shocked at how poor the discharge instructions were after my release from the emergency department a few months ago, after I was struck by a car. I received basically nothing and had to count on family and clients in the medical system to help me. I know I’m not the only one who’s had this experience.

The second idea is broader and vaguer, but starts to draw on the expertise of Amazon’s partners who are in the financial services and insurance industries and have a lot of information about their customers. The consortium could help patients chart their financial path through the healthcare system, helping them identify what insurance to select, how much to save in their HSA and FSA, and where and when to get their care. It could be a virtual concierge for patients, relying big data and machine learning to provide insights and continuous improvement.

If these suggestions were implemented they would have a high impact, even though they would not completely transform the system. It seems like about the right level for this group to shoot for. If they try to be bolder they will likely fail.


By healthcare business consultant David E. Williams, president of Health Business Group.

3 thoughts on “Amazon: Force the healthcare system to become patient-centric”

  1. I’ve been a respiratory therapist for 35 years. I’m not certain what you said in your article, but I didn’t read anything new or that hasn’t been done already. There are no management strategies or tricks that will improve healthcare. I’ve seen more than a dozen. Healthcare has to improve one patient at a time. One test, one procedure, and one medicine at a time. What is the best way to manage a patient on mechanical ventilation? We don’t know, but we should. Patients receiving mechanical ventilation longer than twelve hours cost hospitals billions. I believe we can improve outcomes of mechanical ventilation by more than 10%. If Amazon, Berkshire, JP Morgan take a macro-view of healthcare and apply artificial intelligence to the big-data of electronic patient records, they can make a huge difference.

  2. Good thoughts — I’d only add that Amazon and Co. can do more to ensure that patients own their own health data in one central place. AWS for all your health records. It’ll help reduce costs, avoid misdiagnoses and speed the delivery of care.

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