Editor's Corner—Amazon probably isn’t saving healthcare anytime soon, but CIOs still can

Amazon.com building
Don't hold your breath waiting for Amazon to transform healthcare. (Robert Scoble/CC BY 2.0)
Evan Sweeney

The ink had barely dried on the press release touting Amazon’s new healthcare partnership with two of the world’s biggest financial firms when a key participant threw some cold water on the vague new initiative.

As it turns out, the new partnership between Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase didn’t sit right with some of the industry’s more established players, and executives at two of the five largest healthcare insurers worried it would cut into their business model.

RELATED: Amazon teams up with Berkshire Hathaway, JPMorgan Chase in technology-driven healthcare venture

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JPMorgan CEO James Dimon quickly allayed their fears. The new partnership was more of a group-purchasing organization, he told concerned executives, according to The Wall Street Journal. Despite the bluster of the announcement, it appears widespread disruption, particularly for the bank’s biggest clients, is not necessarily part of the plan.

More recently, Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett mixed optimism about the new partnership’s potential with a distinct dose of caution about how quickly the three companies could bend the healthcare cost curve.

“The question is whether we can come up with something better, and I’m hopeful, but don’t expect any miracles out of us soon,” Buffett told CNBC on Monday, adding that the group plans to have a CEO in place by the end of the year.

It’s not to say the healthcare venture—whatever it is, exactly—won’t change healthcare for the better. I just wouldn’t hold my breath. Even Amazon, with all its money and technology prowess, is going to have a difficult time overhauling the industry, especially when its partners have their own delicate partnerships to navigate.

It’s not just Amazon, either. All of the big technology companies that have zeroed in on healthcare as their next pet project come with their own neatly stowed-away baggage. Google’s algorithms, while historically powerful, also produce sometimes unsettling results.

Apple has perfected consumer-facing technology, and now the company has added medical records to its purview. But the Apple Watch starts at $329 and the iPhone X is just shy of $1,000—not exactly accessible to low-income populations hardest hit by chronic illnesses.

Amazon, Google and Apple will undoubtedly push the industry forward, but they aren’t the saviors some are hoping for. Provider CIOs, innovation officers and health informatics professionals are arguably better positioned than anyone to collectively make the biggest impact pushing healthcare towards a more efficient model of care. Those executives have a direct line to healthcare's biggest pain points, coupled with a growing number of solutions at their fingertips.

Their objective—now and in the years ahead—will be finding the digital tools that work best for their patient population and building new evidence about which approach is most effective.

RELATED: Apple update brings medical records to the iPhone

This year’s HIMSS conference comes at a time when the healthcare industry has more technology at its disposal than ever before with digital health investment at an all-time high. Now healthcare executives of all types are tasked with separating the wheat from the chaff to determine which companies have put more effort into their platform than their marketing pitch. And for many, the primary purpose of next week’s trip to Las Vegas is to do just that.

Ultimately, those iterative changes will have a significant impact on clinicians and patients alike. Individually, those efforts won’t do much to bend the industry’s cost curve. But taken together, the efficiencies born out of new efforts to integrate telemedicine, analyze data, test new algorithms, share patient records and streamline care will push the industry forward in ways Amazon simply can't do alone.

That’s also part of what I’m interested in talking to healthcare executives about at HIMSS. If you’re a healthcare provider or payer doing something interesting or transformative, send me a message and let’s connect in Las Vegas. — Evan | @DB_Sweeney

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