Dear Incumbent, Ignore the Earthquake in Healthcare at Your Peril

This article was originally published March 13 on LinkedIn. You can see the original article, here

Seismic change occurs when the friction between opposing forces gives way and the ground shifts suddenly beneath our feet. Well, the US healthcare system has been growing relentlessly for decades compressing wages, investment, and growth in virtually every other industry in our economy. To many observers, it seems inevitable that something would give.

Recent headlines signal faster change than our geologic healthcare timescales generally allow: CVS and Aetna will merge. Verily, an Alphabet company, will offer health insurance. Apple announced it will launch electronic health records on the iPhone and next-generation health clinics for employees. Amazon will form a new healthcare technology company with JP Morgan and Berkshire Hathaway. And, in the news last week, Cigna will acquire Express Scripts.

Inevitable maybe, but why all of this change now? As Cigna CEO David Cordani explained to CNBC, “Our view is that the current marketplace is not sustainable. The market demands more affordability, the market demands more personalization, the market demands more value.” True but these pressures have been around a while. They gave rise to new network and payer arrangements, such as HMOs, consumer-directed health plans, Centers of Excellence, and even Accountable Care Organizations. Yet until now large incumbents have easily divided the “market” in healthcare and conquered its pieces.

What’s changing in healthcare is our expectations. Yours and mine and our employer’s. Innovation in basic industries like transportation, food, and retail have shown all of us that poor quality, excessive cost, and mind-numbing inefficiencies are bugs we can fix.

Ten years ago you probably wouldn’t have thought twice about standing in the street to hail a cab and then handing your credit card to the driver while double parked in traffic; or spending an hour in the grocery store to hunt, gather, and pay for groceries; or braving crowds at a mall to buy overpriced gifts during holidays. Not anymore. In 2018, if you’re a transportation company, or a grocery business, or any other retailer and your customers cannot search their options to find the best one for them, schedule pick-up or drop-off, and pay for your service easily and seamlessly through a smartphone app, your business is probably shrinking. The same is not yet true in healthcare, but it will be.

Increasingly, employers and consumers are demanding an easy, reliable way to find high value care. The digital health revolution is empowering consumers and making healthcare more accessible and user-friendly. Many consumers already have powerful digital tools to meet their healthcare needs — from finding and visiting the right doctor, to managing a chronic condition, to staying fit and healthy. The latest innovations in digital health integrate real world healthcare services with consumer-grade smartphone apps to make healthcare easier and more seamless than ever. But it’s only the beginning.

Employers have been leading the way. They provide health benefits to half of all Americans, and escalating costs became unsustainable for employers years ago. Since early this decade, they have been implementing new technologies that weave together health benefits and digital tools that help make healthcare less fragmented, less complex, and easier to manage. Digital solutions like telehealth, cost and quality transparency tools, digital therapeutics, and healthcare navigation platforms are in use today and growing rapidly.

In spite of these innovations, healthcare remains pathologically inefficient. But it is no longer inevitable and unchangeable, and that’s why large companies are joining forces and launching initiatives now. No one company or initiative will be able to do it alone. At Castlight, we are excited to see incumbents and large new players making moves to put the consumer first. Those that do it best will own the future of healthcare.