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SmartExam
January 3, 2019

Lessons From Retail: What can Healthcare Execs Learn from Successful—and Defunct—Businesses?

A few months ago, I was visiting a large healthcare system and speaking to C-suite executives. The conference room we were sitting in had an expansive view that included a large, empty Sears parking lot. One of the execs I was talking with told me he often looks at the empty parking lot to remind himself what happens when companies stop innovating.

I was reminded of that experience when I read this article about Walmart CEO Doug McMillion. He keeps a photo of the top 10 retailers since the 1950s on his phone as a reminder of how many of them don’t exist anymore. Walmart has topped that list since the 1990s, but the also-rans have changed significantly, with some disappearing entirely and others that didn’t make the list at all a decade ago now vying for the top spot.

McMillion’s key to success? It pays to be a little paranoid. Organizations must adapt, innovate, and stay vigilant to what their competitors are doing. The real trick, though, is to be inclusive of what you mean by “competitors.”

Healthcare executives would be wise to take note. If you’re only paying attention to your direct competitors, you’re ignoring another—potentially catastrophic—threat: new entrant disruptors.

It’s worth noting that two of the top three retailers in 2017 have made forays into healthcare in recent years. But why?

The simplest answer, of course, is that healthcare accounts for almost 20 percent of the U.S. GDP, second only to finance and insurance. Who wouldn’t want a piece of that $3.5 trillion pie?

Amazon recently released software designed to mine medical data from EHRs. This presents opportunities to improve data management and operations, integrate disparate EHR systems, monitor disease management, recognize patterns in cold and flu outbreaks, and make recommendations for best practices.

It also means they are actively seeking access to information with which to laser target their marketing to consumers in need of healthcare services (i.e. patients). If that doesn’t give healthcare executives pause, it should.

It’s easy for incumbent health system execs to minimize the impact of moves closer to care delivery from companies like Amazon and CVS, or to pooh-pooh the threat from companies like One Medical or Teladoc.

You’ve undoubtedly heard tropes like, “Patients love their relationship with our doctors”, or “Only I know my patients well enough to treat them”, or “Those places only treat the little stuff” at your organization. Remember when Sears thought that Amazon was a cute online book seller? Or when Blockbuster thought that Netflix wasn’t a threat because they didn’t offer new releases? Brand loyalty was declared dead years ago by other industries. Assuming that patients won’t abandon the relationship with their doctor for convenience completely ignores the data.

If your patient retention and acquisition strategy doesn’t include aggressively offering more patient-friendly, digital offerings, you could be in serious trouble. You can be sure Amazon and other industry disruptors are ready to help your patients get the care they need, in the way that’s most convenient for them.

Ray Costantini, MD
Bright.md CEO and co-founder
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