The greatest health crisis in a generation is poised to accelerate innovation at the intersection of healthcare, technology and payments as never before.
From telehealth to new financing options for patient treatments to big retailers like Walmart, Walgreens and CVS mashing up retail with healthcare, everyone from startups to incumbents are using the pandemic as an opportunity to disrupt — and reinvent — healthcare.
Here’s a look at some of the latest developments.
Walmart, Walgreens And CVS Are Getting Into The Game
Walmart’s in-store clinics have been growing in number and popularity for some time, and the retail giant sees itself as part of healthcare now and not just a retailer checking shoppers’ vital signs for a fee.
“We’re in healthcare. We’re not in retail healthcare,” Walmart senior director of strategy and customer experience for health and wellness Matt Parry told MedCityNews.
The retail giant is opening up more and more in-store clinics to offer basic medical and dental services for about the price of an insurance copay.
Walmart has also reportedly created a new insurance subsidiary that’s set up for the moment to sell Medicare Advantage plans. And the retailer ponied up a reported $200 million for pieces of Seattle-based startup CareZone’s technology, which personalizes prescription drug management for individuals.
Meanwhile, Walgreens Boots Alliance’s wholesale pharmacy division is doing the idea of limited-service urgent care clinics one better. It’s partnering with VillageMD to co-locate full-service doctor’s offices in Walgreens stores nationwide. The chain plans to open 500 to 700 “Village Medical at Walgreens” primary care clinics across some 30 U.S. markets in the next five years, with hundreds more potentially in the offing as well.
CVS was among the early pioneers, starting with its 2018 purchase of health insurer Aetna. The chain has also been pursuing in-store clinics focused on management of chronic conditions, such as asthma, kidney disease and cardiovascular disease, while also seeking to encompass more services at its MinuteClinics.
COVID-19 Is Taking Telehealth Mainstream
But in-store clinics are just the tip of the hypodermic needle, so to speak. Telehealth in its various forms is where much of the post-pandemic action is concentrated.
Frost & Sullivan estimates (as per modernhealthcare.com) that online medical appointments will reach 200 million this year, up from earlier estimates of 36 million. And consultancy Technavio predicts that healthcare cloud computing will grow by $25.5 billion globally by 2024, according to a press release.
John Jesser, president of clinical solutions at Amwell, told PYMNTs in an On The Agenda: The Future of Healthcare roundtable that telehealth “is really a great source for direct medical guidance, treatment, prescriptions ordering. And even though there is no prescription for this necessarily, a doctor monitors who needs to stay home and drink fluids and which patients look like they need to be in the ER so they can help make that happen. And now you’re not having 500 people walk into the same ER at once saying, ‘I have a fever.’” (Watch the full roundtable free and on demand at PYMNTS TV.)
Not only does telemedicine offer such efficiencies, it also brings back the traditional house call — only smartphone-style. Doctor On Demand CEO Hill Ferguson told PYMNTS that the “pendulum is starting to swing back” toward in-home visits for reasons ranging from efficiency to affordability to quality of care.
Everyone From Pharma To FinTechs Is Also Involved
As much as is being poured into retail healthcare, possibly more investment and innovation are concentrated on the prescription-drug market, a sector that’s forecast to hit nearly $360 billion in 2020.
Taking unbundling online, direct-to-consumer (D2C) startups like TruePill are championing virtualized prescribing and fulfillment. Truepill Co-founder and President Sid Viswanathan and CEO Umar Afridi told PYMNTS that their firm has differentiated from operators like Amazon’s PillPack by using a B2B focus.
The company is serving stakeholders in the healthcare space as far-flung as manufacturers and providers, particularly as millennials lack any affinity to a primary care physician and turn to telehealth providers to fix what literally ails them. Giving teledocs an online pharmacy that offers same-day delivery is a cornerstone of Truepill’s unbundling and healthcare reinvention strategy.
Meanwhile, innovators have taken aim at solving the affordability and payments problems that ail providers’ balance sheets. For example, Flywire augmented its healthcare payments platform through the acquisition of Simplee. That helps Flywire offer “pre-service” payment plans to patients who need treatment, as well as a more manageable way to pay for it.
Flywire’s systems allow healthcare providers to give patients personalized payment options before service, and it offers customizable payment options that adapt to a patient’s ability to pay. That lets providers address the concerns of those who might be facing hardship due to COVID-19.
Many FinTechs are also actively fielding healthcare billing and payments solutions. These new platforms aim to automate labyrinthine medical billing practices and get disbursements flowing faster to providers and patients.
For instance, the Patientco platform reconciles medical billing issues that are often encountered with current patient-accounting systems by using a sleek application programming interface (API) that streamlines processes and even saves some money.
“If you’re a [healthcare] CFO, you are really paying attention to all these dollars,” said CEO Bird Blitch.