It wasn’t too long ago when consumers only had the option of doing the bulk of their shopping in brick-and-mortar stores. Then Amazon and other online retailers came along, completely revolutionizing how, when and where people buy goods and services.
The U.S. health care system is now on the verge of a similarly seismic shift, according to a May report from the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence and U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), a nonprofit scientific organization focused on health and science.
And in-home care workers are playing a leading role.
“This is a large trend that a lot of people feel could have an impact on health care,” Robert Laubacher, a research scientist and executive director of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence, told Home Health Care News. “Rather than going to a doctor’s office or hospital, there will likely be more customer-friendly or patient-friendly ways of getting access to care.”
As part of their recently released report, MIT and USP brought more than 100 health care experts together to discuss how health care will change between 2020 and 2040.
The “Amazonization” of health care was one of the key concepts identified by the group.
Broadly, the Amazonization of health care means shifting health care services away from facilities and toward home- and community-based settings. A combination of factors are driving that shift, including advancements in artificial intelligence (AI), wearable technology and remote-monitoring devices, the report claims.
“We could be talking about home-based sensors to monitor health or even the formulation of drugs in the home,” Laubacher said. “It’s really an expansive vision that could mean a lot of different things.”
While the MIT and USP report highlighted the Amazonization of health care overall, one could argue it’s already a phenomenon that has happened in the senior care space.
Several home health providers, for example, have teamed up with telemedicine partners to supplement in-person visits with virtual care services. Even Best Buy (NYSE: BBY) has been growing its in-home senior care program, built around the 2018 acquisition of GreatCall for $800 million.
Best Buy’s leadership expects to help deliver health care services to more than 5 million seniors by 2025.
“We have reiterated our focus on helping seniors live longer in their homes through our unique combination of tap and touch, thereby reducing their health care costs and bringing greater peace of mind for them and their families and caregivers,” Best Buy CEO Corrie Barry said during the company’s third-quarter earnings call last year.
As the rest of the health care sector outside of senior care follows the Amazonization wave, in-home care providers may start seeing more opportunities to step into supportive roles with companies delivering services.
“Often, wearables, sensors and other technologies end up being adopted, but you need the machine and the person,” Laubacher said. “The more powerful and effective systems are those where you bring the machine in to do what the machine can do well, then bring in the person to do what the person can do well.”
That could mean leveraging a qualified home health worker to help an individual conduct an in-home blood test, he noted. It could also mean having a home health nurse present during a telemedicine appointment with a doctor.
Richmond, Virginia-based Workpath is one company that has already taken advantage of the Amazonization trend.
Founded in 2016, Workpath is a national mobile health care platform that deploys tens of thousands of mobile health care workers into people’s homes to help conduct follow-up tests and checkups. Backed by Structure Capital and Heritage Group, Workpath has raised more than $19 million since launching.
“If you think about traditional health care, workforce management and scheduling tools, they’re really based on the premise of, ‘We’re going to have all of the labor, the doctors, the nurses, the phlebotomists in one spot — and we’re going to let the patients come to us,’” Workpath CEO Eddie Peloke told HHCN. “We fundamentally work differently. We built [our company] with a notion of taking health care to the patient.”
Currently, Workpath helps coordinate workers in-home care across all 50 states. It works with a range of customers, including well-known health systems, two of the three largest diagnostic labs in the U.S. and “a couple of home health providers,” according to Peloke.
While the MIT and USP report looked at health care trends with an eye toward 2040, the Amazonization of health care is more likely to happen sooner rather than later thanks to the coronavirus. As seniors and other consumers become acquainted with telemedicine, in-home testing and more as a necessity amid COVID-19, they’ll be more likely to turn to those services in the future.
On its end, Workpath has seen a 165% increase in weekly appointment volume since mid-January.
“During this [crisis], we’ve talked to a couple local health systems and helped them do mobile phlebotomy, specifically for the vulnerable patients who they didn’t want to come into a clinic,” Peloke said. “Now, they’re talking to their patients about what happens when COVID is over, whether they’ll have to go back into a facility. Patients are saying, ‘No. We don’t want to go back.’”