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Is Walmart the Hail Mary Healthcare Needs?

healthcare post

 

This blog was originally published on Jon Belsher’s website here.

Walmart makes a point of stocking its shelves with a little bit of everything. From food to clothes to specialized garden tools, the retail giant has the items its shoppers need to live a prepared daily life – and now, Walmart plans to extend that one-stop preparedness to meet its consumers’ healthcare needs. In late March, a report from the Wall Street Journal revealed that the corporation was in early negotiations with the Medicare insurance colossus Humana. The idea of an acquisition isn’t entirely unexpected, given that the two companies already collaborate on a Medicare prescription drug plan. But an acquisition of this scale could have an impact that makes a co-branded drug venture look near-inconsequential. If Walmart’s efforts to bring Humana into the fold succeed, the retail conglomerate might just open the door to affordable primary healthcare for millions of Americans.

Let’s take a step back. While significant, this foray into public health isn’t unprecedented; over the past year, retail competitors have made similar strides into the healthcare industry. CVS, for example, began a deal for the managed healthcare services company Aetna earlier this year for a whopping $69 billion. However, the difference between Walmart’s reach for Humana and CVS’s planned acquisition of Aetna is a matter of size and capability. The vast majority of Walmart’s near-4,700 branded and subsidiary locations already have on-site pharmacies, and stores in a few states have begun offering clinic services. Humana’s offerings would effectively complement what Walmart already has: the insurance giant runs its own pharmacy benefits service and almost 200 clinics. By merging with Humana, the retail giant could burgeon into a major primary care provider and have a ready pool of dedicated patients. Humana currently provides insurance to over 14 million Medicaid enrollees, all of whom could potentially turn to Walmart as a one-stop shop for their healthcare needs.

This is a game-changer for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it removes some significant patient barriers to primary care. Unfortunately, as one researcher puts it in a paper published in a 2008 issue of  JAMA Internal Medicine: “Simply being able to name a usual source of medical care is not the same as having effective and timely access to that same source of care.” The same study found that patients often can’t consult with their physicians because of barriers such as extended waiting periods, scarce appointments, and problems reaching their doctors via phone. This lack of access pushes primary care patients to seek treatment in emergency rooms and urgent care centers. This is understandably problematic: not only is the upfront cost more expensive for the patient, but the influx of low-grade cases divert resources that emergency centers need for more extreme cases. And make no mistake, there is an influx. In 2014, the CDC report found that approximately 32% of ER patients are seen for under 15 minutes – and only 7.9% of all visits result in hospital admission. This implies that the vast majority of cases could have – or perhaps should have – been taken care of by a primary care provider.

But this problem can be rectified – and Walmart’s merger might just be the first step towards a solution. According to a 2009 study published in the BMC Health Research Journal, “54% of patients reported choosing [Urgent Care] due to not having to make an appointment, 51.2% because it was convenient, 43.9% because of same-day test results, 42.7% because of ability to get same-day medications.” In other words, patients chose urgent care because it was convenient and reliable. These patients didn’t need to worry about the pay they would lose by taking hours off of work, or about finding a pharmacy to take their insurance. If Walmart merges with Humana and becomes the significant primary care provider it has the potential to be, it could overcome the barriers that traditional primary care centers face and give millions of Americans access to quality, convenient care.

But will the acquisition go through? The situation is complicated.

Considered from a business perspective, this particular merger is somewhat of a mixed bag. Moving into healthcare would give Walmart the chance to diversify its consumer base, gain an edge over its dollar store and pricier retail competitors, and profit from the influx of patient-consumers. However, the move upward would come at a cost.  Given that the market value for Humana currently stands at $37 billion and that the final cost could be even higher after negotiations, the decision to merge isn’t an easy one to make. To make matters more complex, the return value Walmart would receive could be years away. The change could be invaluable to Walmart as an organization and primary care patients as a whole, but it’s easy to see why the final decision to move forward will be a difficult one given the financial situation.

But from a healthcare provider’s perspective, I have to hope that this acquisition will go through and that patients will have the access they need. We’re in the early stages yet, but Walmart-Humana deal might just be the Hail Mary that moves us towards a convenient and affordable primary care system.

Apple Plans to Take a Bite Out of the Healthcare Market

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This blog was originally published on Jon Belsher’s website here.

When Steve Wozniak and the late Steve Jobs founded Apple in 1976, neither of them likely anticipated how influential the company would become in the development of the internet age and beyond. From their first typewriter-like computer, called the Apple I, to the game-changing Macintosh computer, the pair were at the tip of the spear of the emerging technology market in Silicon Valley. Over time, Apple released unique lines of innovative technologies including digital music players, pioneering smartphones, tablet computers and wearables.

Though Jobs passed away in 2011 from pancreatic cancer, his visionary and creative spirit still lives on at Apple. The company has continued as a leader in innovation and technology—not only in computing, but also in the ways we lead our lives as well. Apple’s most recent announcement highlights its vision to further disrupt the healthcare market with the release of iOS 11.3.

Apple broke into healthcare with the release of iOS 8 in the fall of 2014. “Health” was the first application of its kind to compile users’ health data from various applications into a single, centralized location for easy data tracking and software integration. Today, the application focuses on four key areas to encourage users to stay healthy.

In addition to providing users with advice in four core areas, “Health” also allows users to track their body measurements, heart rate, and test results.

Apple recently announced that one of the newest features of its Health application will allow users to maintain their medical records and associated information on their devices. According to the New York Times, the announcement is the latest indication of Apple’s focus on using its technology to give people more control over their health care.

This development will be in beta testing with roughly a dozen hospitals around the country, two of which include Johns Hopkins and Penn Medicine. Though patients whose providers are affiliated with these hospitals will have to opt-in to use the service, the tool will undoubtedly prove useful to patients who have an interest in becoming more invested and active in today’s age of patient empowerment.

When a patient uses the application, essential data, such as prescribed medications, will be able to be accessed 24/7. Other information that will be readily available includes allergies, chronic medical conditions, immunizations, lab results, procedures, and vital signs. Users will be notified directly on their phones as soon as new information about their health is available. There will likely be a consequential diminished need for patient portals because users will be able to access their information with just a few taps of their screen.

Pharma’s role is also evolving. The industry states that the number of patients who more readily recognize their conditions is increasing. Thanks to the power of the internet and new technology, patients are becoming more empowered every day. Apple is just one of the many companies that is looking to invest heavily in healthcare. As recently announced, Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and J.P. Morgan are looking to disrupt the healthcare market as well.

What impact will these three companies potentially have on Apple’s strategy? Stay tuned for my next blog.

Healthcare Innovations Revealed at CES 2018

This blog was originally published on Jon Belsher’s website here.


“We stand for innovators and the promise of technology,” says the homepage of the Consumer Technology Association.

A champion for global technological innovation, the CTA advocates for entrepreneurs, technologists, and innovators who shape the future of the consumer technology industry. Whether it’s in the automotive or healthcare sector, the CTA provides a forum that unites leaders to network and collaborate on technologies to propel our society forward.

Once a year, the CTA hosts the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada. The show features an abundance of hands-on experiences, sneak peaks of new technologies, and announcements that have far-reaching impacts. Although the event has been held annually since 1967, it’s only recently drawn a lot of attention and hype—you can thank the 21st-century digital revolution for that! Today, brands that attend CES receive significant exposure for their products through media outlets such as TechCrunchVentureBeatBusiness Insider, and more.

As my interest in technology has grown—particularly as it relates to the healthcare landscape—my fascination with CTA and CES has increased. CES is the only venue where the entire digital health ecosystem comes together in one place. Although I missed this year’s event, I kept my eyes peeled on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google News feeds for groundbreaking updates in healthcare technology. Below are a few of my favorite highlights.

Curing Cancer… with Sound?

Bestselling writer, attorney, politician, and activist John Grisham spoke about the growing public interest in his recent ebook, “The Tumor.” The story describes how a new medical technology called focused ultrasound cures a father’s medical disorder with sound. Though the book is fictitious, the treatment is not.

Now, Grisham and his medical consultant for the book, Dr. Neal Kassell, founder and chairman of the Focused Ultrasound Foundation and a former neurosurgeon, are working together to raise awareness about this new technology. Their goal is to lower the cost of the treatment to make it more accessible.

What is “The Invisible Doctor”?

Representatives from Google’s Verily, United Healthcare, Doctor on Demand, Samsung, and the Institute for the Future spoke at a panel about “The Invisible Doctor.” What does it mean? In today’s data-driven age, the intersection of tech and healthcare has made it easier than ever before for patients to get treatment—without actually seeing a doctor. An example of this is telehealth, where patients remotely connect with their healthcare provider without leaving their home. You can view the entirety of the panel, along with its transcript, on CNET’s website here.

Healthcare at Home

With today’s advancements in technology that allow many to work from anywhere, why can’t the same practice be applied to healthcare? With technologies such as TytoCare, you can have doctor’s appointments from anywhere as well. Owned by parent company Walgreens Boots Alliance, TytoCare’s TytoHome allows consumers to perform a basic medical exam at home, then connect with their physician through video on their own time.

News from this year’s CES is inspiring. I’m looking forward to seeing the impact these technological innovations make in 2018 and beyond.

Is the Twenty-First Century Healthcare Revolution Already Here?

Every century, doctors and scientists have a breakthrough that changes the scope of healthcare forever. Often disruptive, these changes can come with speculation — and even rejection — from the medical community and the general public. Eventually, some discoveries will prevail and become accepted by the general public and medical community. Others, however, remain in the past and will only be remembered in history books and medical journals.

Regardless of how widely accepted new or old discoveries are, we can’t credit today’s modern medicine without paying tribute to the various healthcare revolutions of history’s past. No matter how revolutionary these breakthroughs were, we wouldn’t be where we are today had it not been for the disruptive and innovative ideas of doctors and scientists alike.

In the Eighteenth Century, British country doctor Edward Jenner tested his theory of administering an injection to prevent disease, specifically smallpox. The experiment was a success, but it wasn’t until Louis Pasteur developed this concept even further to what we know today as a vaccine. Although it was a breakthrough discovery that saved millions of lives, an anti-vaccination movement emerged in the nineteenth century because it was considered to be an intrusion of privacy and bodily integrity; the movement unfortunately continues today.

In the Nineteenth Century, there were several notable discoveries in the emerging age of modern medicine, but the breakthrough of the century was performed by Boston dentist William T. G. Morton. As the first person in the world to publicly and successfully demonstrate the use of ether anesthesia to render patients unconscious, Morton proved that patients could undergo surgery without experiencing pain. Today, an estimated 40 million anesthetics are administered each year in the United States alone.

In the Twentieth Century, modern medicine was starting to take hold. Clinicians laid the foundation for modern medical care by designing the physical layout and operational structure of hospitals, education, augmented training, and licensure requirements. Not only were hospital practices evolving, but halfway through the century Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins developed a general understanding of genetics and DNA. Fast forward to the end of the century, and the first genetically cloned organism — a sheep named Dolly — was created. The experiment sent waves of “future shock” around the world and led to numerous discussions if science had gone too far.

So where does that leave us in the Twenty-First Century? You can read the rest of this blog on Jon Belsher’s website here

Timing Is Everything: Why Some Technologies Fail (At Least Temporarily)

“What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?”

I was asked this question for an interview with Ideamensch, an online community of people with ideas that inspire action among others in their communities. My response was this:

“We started a telemedicine company about ten years ago. While the idea was right, the timing of the service was not. Timing is everything. I used the experience to continue honing my knowledge of the field, recognizing the inevitable impact at some later date.”

Although our telehealth venture did not succeed at the time, I took it in stride because plenty of other companies experience failures due to timing as well.

The Sega Dreamcast

Released in 1999, Sega’s Dreamcast was a video game console ahead of its time. As the first company to capitalize on the internet for gameplay, Sega’s Dreamcast was hyped to be one of the most innovative video game consoles of all time. However, the timing of the Dreamcast’s release was its ultimate downfall.

Although access to the internet for interactive online gameplay was a good idea in theory, the internet was still a new concept in the commercialized market. Therefore, the broadband connection required for the Dreamcast was not up to par and the quality of the gameplay suffered.

TwitterPeek

Released in 2008, the TwitterPeek handheld device was meant to do one thing and one thing only: check your Twitter feed. With Twitter’s launch in 2006, TwitterPeek would have been a successful gadget if it was released at the same time. However, the launch of Apple’s all-in-one iPhone the year prior made the device obsolete. Although the iPhone didn’t become popular until the 2010s, there was still a market for the TwitterPeek to sell — but it was too little too late.

Microsoft SPOT Watch

Before the Apple Watch came onto the tech scene, Microsoft had its shot at wearable technology with its SPOT watch.

When it first hit the market in 2004, Microsoft’s watch used FM waves to beam text messages, stock reports, weather forecasts, news and more directly to the watch. Since this was a time without Wi-Fi, this meant that users could only receive information. This one-way method of exchanging information also wasn’t compatible with any other device, so the watch functioned as a standalone piece of technology.

Considering cellular broadband networks were getting off the ground, few people wanted a watch that could only receive data through FM channels.

The lesson I have learned? My temporary setback didn’t stop me from pursuing my passion for disruption of the healthcare industry. Since then, I have helped create additional companies that are changing the healthcare landscape by making healthcare more affordable and easier to access. For more information about my healthcare business ventures, visit my website here.

This blog was originally posted on Jon Belsher’s website here.

3 Powerful Strategies to Make Your Career Transition Successful

After spending six years as the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) of MedSpring Urgent Care, I’m in pursuit of my next adventure in healthcare. Since I stepped down from my role, I’ve employed a few helpful strategies I wanted to share. If you’re looking to transition in your career, take a look at the following insights. It’s my hope that they will inspire you in pursuit of your next professional venture!

Attend a Conference in Your Field

I recently attended the Aspen Ideas Festival: Spotlight Health in Colorado. Not only did I learn about innovations in healthcare, artificial intelligence and precision medicine, but the festival provided a unique networking opportunity. I met with fellow innovators and industry leaders during receptions and break outs. These opportunities provided me with valuable connections as well as useful insights.

Whether it’s a local conference hosted by your industry or a national event, attending a conference can be an excellent opportunity for your career transition. Have your elevator pitch and business cards ready because a quick chat at an industry event could lead to a new opportunity!

To find out more strategies to make a successful career transition, please visit Jon Belsher’s website here.

Startups Are Making Waves in the Healthcare Industry

Pushing the envelope in the healthcare industry is one of my favorite topics to talk about; combined with today’s startup culture, there are many opportunities to creative positive change with technology. Lately, three healthcare startups have been in the news. They are making headlines because of their innovative ideas and outside-the-box thinking. As an innovative executive and visionary leader, I admire their work.

Ascension partners with Silicon Valley startup accelerator” via St. Louis Business Journal

Ascension, the nation’s largest nonprofit health care system, is partnering with Silicon Valley startup accelerator Plug and Play Tech Center. As a company that offers 12-week industry-specific training programs, Plug and Play will serve as a mentor to Ascension and will educate the company about new opportunities available in the healthcare realm. Plug and Play already worked with startup companies like Soundhound, PayPal, and Dropbox, so they are no strangers to companies and entrepreneurs who are looking to turn their potential into concrete success.

“Plug and Play Tech Center offers us a method of spotting innovation in healthcare and wellness to solve problems and meet evolving consumer needs,” said Jim Beckmann, COO of Ascension. “We know the future of healthcare lies in offering greater value and in empowering consumers, and teaming with Plug and Play gives us another tool in the toolbox to achieve that goal.”

To see other startups that are making waves in healthcare, visit Jon Belsher’s website here.