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Healthcare Disruption + Competition Part 1: The New Wild West

What comes to mind when you think about the Wild West? Clint Eastwood swaggering through swinging saloon doors? Stagecoach heists and train robberies? Whatever you learned about pioneer life playing The Oregon Trail in elementary school?

These are all intrinsically linked with the Wild West’s zeitgeist, but I see it a bit differently. Discarding the concept of manifest destiny, this was THE era of unbridled American opportunity. Homesteading pioneers, ranchers, and gold-rushers—the entrepreneurs of the mid-1800s—all flocked to the American West with dreams of making their fortunes. And many succeeded.

Virtual Care’s Wild West

Virtual care is the digital frontier. Smartphones are our stagecoaches. Cloud-based services are our picks and axes; reliable in their errand but indifferent to the outcome. Sleek apps and user interfaces are the 6-shooters brought into battle. True, no one is dying of dysentery (hopefully) on their virtual care journey. But, the gunfights at high noon are just as real (if not as bloody). The early prospectors must always watch their backs or have the smell of another, sexier app, be their last.   

Analogies aside, an article in the December issue of Health Affairs paints a wild-west landscape clearly – from innovation, to competition, to opportunity. It got me thinking about how this retailization of telemedicine is changing the face of healthcare—and how this disruptive shift in competition is likely to impact health systems.

Go West, Well, Everyone!

The other day, I read an article in Vox about how CrossFit is “amassing an army of doctors to disrupt healthcare.” Seriously. CrossFit. And that is just the latest in established players outside the healthcare space looking for ways to upend healthcare delivery. Amazon, Apple and Google have all thrown their hats into the healthcare ring.

Earlier this year, Amazon announced a healthcare focused partnership with JPMorgan and Berkshire Hathaway aimed at streamlining care for their self-insured populations. Apple increasingly offers health tracking functionality in their wearable and personal technology products and has been hiring doctors—as many as 50 over the past few years, according to CNBC. And Google’s parent company Alphabet recently moved to combine its DeepMind AI and healthcare businesses. Even social media platform Facebook made waves this spring with its foray into healthcare with its heavy handed, but certainly interesting exploration of how they could link social health determinants to actual patient health records.

These industry outsiders aren’t the only ones making waves in healthcare. Closer to home for health systems, retail clinics and pharmacies are working to grab a bigger piece of consumers’ healthcare spending. Retailers like CVS and Walgreens were early to jump on the retail clinic bandwagon, and are branching into other convenient care avenues, including telemedicine and virtual care.

For example, this summer, Walgreens launched a digital health service geared toward patients that connects them with direct-to-consumer telemedicine companies and a few regionally select provider organizations. And just the other day, I read an article in Becker’s about how they’re partnering with Verily – Alphabet’s life sciences subsidiary.  Likewise, CVS’ Minute Clinic now offers video visits through the CVS app – a service that connects exclusively with their telemedicine vendor, and Walmart launched a telemedicine initiative just this past October.

The Healthcare Disruption Gold Rush

These organizations are moving quickly to grab a piece of the action in healthcare for one specific reason: there is opportunity here. Healthcare in the U.S. is a $3 trillion (and growing) industry, and one that hasn’t yet reaped the benefits of the digital revolution. That means the race is still open to become the Amazon of healthcare – in fact, if you read the last section, you know Amazon is interested in becoming just that.

It may sound daunting, but it’s also exhilarating. The prairies of perverse economics are wide and hostile; the mountains of data silos foreboding. And technology giants, retail pharmacies, and non-traditional care delivery systems are all crowding the dusty trails of the true pioneers.  Next up, I’ll give you my two cents on how health systems can evolve to maintain their primacy – and win in the new Wild West.

5 Best Practices for Assembling a Virtual Care Steering Committee

Increasingly, health systems working to assemble high-functioning steering committees to guide their virtual care strategy and service, but overall the industry is lagging behind in creating the cross-functional teams needed to drive virtual care success. Part of what is holding health systems back may be the challenges surrounding identifying and assembling a virtual care steering committee. Great news: here are a few simple steps you can take to make sure your steering committee is set up for success.

1. Get Representation from All Key Stakeholder Groups

Virtual care is optimally part of a larger digital health and patient experience strategy, and bringing together key stakeholders across the organization is key to ensuring the right voices are heard. At a minimum, this means representation from any effected care specialties, clinical leadership, IT/technology, strategic leadership, and a liaison from the day-to-day operations team.

Virtual Care Steering Committee Structure

2. Identify and Invite Your Champions

In every organization there are people who are excited about new initiatives. Seek out your virtual care champions for your steering committee. The people who see the possibility and potential of virtual care are fit guardians for your virtual care service and strategy. They’re also the people who will go to bat for virtual care, and be willing to spend the time necessary to make sure your organization gets it right.

3. Have Clear Goals and Responsibilities

Clarity is the key to your steering committee’s success. Do you want your steering committee laser focused on strategy or do you want the members to hold responsibility for operations? Do you want them to make decisions or provide recommendations? Will the committee set goals for your virtual care program or merely be responsible for achieving them?

To help make sure that your organization and committee members know what’s expected, create a committee charter that outlines the precise level and limits of authority, areas of responsibility, and committee objectives. Then, review the charter on a regular basis – annually works well – to make sure it still aligns with what your organization needs.

4. Include Decision-Making Power

A committee that can’t take action isn’t going to do your health system or your virtual care service much good. Within the defined goals and responsibilities, make sure that there are members empowered to take action and affect changes. Virtual care is an investment, and a steering committee needs to have the authority to allocate budget to achieve your health system’s virtual care goals.

5. Avoid Groupthink

This ties back to best practice #2, but make sure you have different voices on your steering committee. A group working closely together needs to include diverse opinions and ways of thinking to avoid the dreaded groupthink. While champions are valuable, so are voices of doubt – even dissent. When assembling your virtual care steering committee, make sure to include at least one person who will pressure-test ideas and ask the tough questions necessary to ensure your program’s success.