The Dawn of the Digital Consumer Healthcare Platform
Pervasive Digital Consumer Platforms (DCPs) like Amazon, Walmart, and Netflix share a common focus: digital fulfillment of consumer needs. These modern DCPs deliver superior omnichannel experiences to open market consumers, and leading DCP innovators drive traffic to their platforms to fulfill consumer demand. DCPs have shaped American habits and expectations. Salesforce research recently reported that the majority of U.S. consumers now expect ‘connected’ digital experiences via real-time voice, video, text, web, mobile and email. In healthcare, these integrated communication capabilities of digital platforms are often referred to as “connected care.”
DCPs and the digital capabilities of connected care have been slow to emerge in the healthcare industry due to regulation. Healthcare regulations have historically restricted the digital delivery of care, digital access to accurate and comprehensive healthcare records, and the development process for digital health solutions.
The challenges of COVID-19 provided Americans with a clear proof point for the value of digital technologies in delivering care, adding momentum to the regulatory enablement of these technologies. With ambulatory care office visits stymied during the pandemic, telemedicine utilization experienced a volume increase of over 6,000% compared to pre-pandemic volumes. In June 2020, in response to the pandemic, the U.S. government formed a small, but purposed, Task Force on Telehealth Policy, which includes the newly formed Alliance for Connected Care (ACC). The ACC exists to advocate for connected care for all Americans, which is defined as “real-time, electronic communication between a patient and a provider, including telehealth, remote patient monitoring, and secure email communication between clinicians and their patients.” The ACC’s backers include top DCP businesses like Amazon and Walmart, as well as traditional healthcare systems like Ascension Health.
Even before COVID-19, savvy American legislators were already acting decisively to improve the regulatory environment for digital innovation in healthcare. At the federal level, legislators passed the 21st Century Cures Act—which both enabled the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS ) to ban information blocking between healthcare market players and also directed the FDA to remove their jurisdiction over mobile medical applications and digital healthcare platforms to only those solutions risking patient safety. At the state level, connected care objectives achieved widespread deregulation even in the years leading up to the pandemic. Connected care capabilities had already been enabled in most U.S. states by the arrival of the pandemic, according to the American Telemedicine Association’s 2019 State of the States Report: Coverage and Reimbursement.
Connected care capabilities will likely be a key entry point for DCPs launching digital healthcare offerings. The learning curve for emerging connected care offerings will be shortened dramatically. Innovators will look to decades of American innovation that have formed the best digital platforms, as well as business and partnership models, to accelerate development of the right offerings for healthcare consumers. A few connected care offerings have been launched with digital native business models, including open innovation models. These models dramatically accelerate innovation for complex local requirements of healthcare, allowing partners to retain intellectual property developed to meet their respective local requirements on the open innovation platform.
The coming wave of digital innovation in healthcare can drive value in many new ways, both for patients and traditional healthcare entities. With consumer and regulatory sentiment shifting towards deregulation, the time for connected care is here and mainstream DCP offerings for healthcare are on the horizon.