The industry is still buzzing around the news that Amazon, JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Berkshire Hathaway have formed an independent company with “technology solutions” to provide “simplified, high-quality and transparent health care at a reasonable cost,” for their U.S. employees.
With scarce details known, beyond what the joint statement provides, industry experts are debating if a banking giant, an online retail mammoth and a business behemoth could really be the ones to finally make a dent in America’s health care woes. I say yes—this type of partnership is exactly what needs to happen to address the root cause of rising health care costs.
The health care industry has been ripe for disruption for some time and history has taught us that innovative ideas, with the help of technology, can help solve huge challenges. The three powerhouse companies combined will be able to merge their strengths in technology, ideas, mergers and acquisitions, and insurance to create a new solution. This partnership will also act as a catalyst for other companies in the health care industry, one that’s traditionally slow to change, encouraging them to start innovating faster, too.
The Rise of Health Care Ultra-Shoppers
For our health care system to change, we need to become better health care consumers—but changing consumer behavior is a difficult thing to do. Amazon has mastered how to make our lives easier by changing how we shop; consumers trust them. They have built a business around online retail that is already in people’s homes and part of people’s routines when they shop. In fact, there are currently around 80 million Amazon Prime members – that’s 64% of households in the U.S.! Amazon has turned consumers into ‘ultra-shoppers,’ using Amazon’s platform first to easily look for the best deal on a particular item, and then secondly, using their platform to purchase and ship the item.
Meanwhile, health insurance continues to get more complicated. The nuances between different plans can be confusing and many people don’t take the time to familiarize themselves with all the different benefits offered to them by their employers, including which providers they should see when different medical situations arise.
If Amazon, through this partnership, can apply the ‘ultra-shoppers’ mindset to health care, it could have a big impact on consumers. Picture a world, much the same as we might shop on Amazon’s site for a new TV, where we ‘shop’ for a new provider. Consumers will have information on physicians and specialists, how much they charge, reviews from past patients, ratings on specific procedures and what kind of outcomes they have.
While some of this health care quality information does exist already, it’s not readily available nor is it consistent. It’s dispersed on multiple sites and apps, and many have minimal consumer engagement, meaning a limited volume of reviews and feedback on providers. Arming consumers with this type of knowledge in an easy-to-use interface that they’re already used to, will cut a lot of unnecessary cost out of the system.
Apple at Bat?
The only other companies that would be able to shake up the health care market like this partnership would have to have a strong legacy technology footprint already in place and the innovative mindset to be disruptive. Keep your eye on Apple because they could easily do for health care what they once did for the music industry industry—by swooping in and digitizing everything. Apple announced in January that it was working to put health records on the iPhone, where iPhone users could easily access their medical records, including lab results, medical tests, appointments and exam notes in one place. The fact that Apple regards this infrastructure as critical, and continues to invest in its health care technology, is promising for consumers.
While the Amazon, JPMorgan, Berkshire partnership won’t reach its goals overnight, health care has reached a tipping point. It’s a $3.4 trillion industry, meaning that about one out of every six dollars we spend as consumers goes to health care. Simply put, as a country we can’t afford to ignore the issue any longer. That applies to us as businesses and consumers. We are likely going to continue to see powerful players taking serious actions to try to fix a system that has so far failed, and innovative thinking paired with technology is exactly what we need to force change.
Rob Piazza is the product manager of Benefitfocus’ Core and Advanced Analytics, a suite of decision support tools that leverage claims integration to enable healthcare cost control strategies. Piazza manages the products throughout the product lifecycle, oversees design to ensure alignment to vision, and leads cross-functional teams including Product Ownership, User Experience, Quality Assurance, and Engineering to deliver market driven solutions.
Prior to joining Benefitfocus, Piazza spent 10 years at Humana within their Clinical Care Services organization. He is passionate about making a real change in healthcare and preaches the concept of Population Health Management; leveraging analytics to improve group healthcare outcomes while also controlling costs.
Connect with Rob: LinkedIn.com/in/robpiazza