What U.S. healthcare can learn from online retailers

Published April 3rd, 2020

By Eddie Peloke, CEO of Workpath

Need new earphones? In less than 30 seconds, you can buy a set on Amazon and grab them off your doorstep the next day (sometimes the same afternoon). Craving something in particular? Food delivery is available from most any place, to most anywhere. 

However, say you want to get a routine, annual flu vaccination. It isn’t quite so easy. You’ll have to leave your home to find a pharmacy and wait in line to get your shot. Why?

This raises a broader question — and one the novel coronavirus is increasing the urgency to answer: Why is the healthcare industry lagging behind the consumer ease of the retail and food industries?

Retail is king of delivery — but healthcare can do better

While health services might never completely catch up to retail (considering the far more stringent regulations in the healthcare industry and the need for patient privacy), there’s certainly room to improve. 

What’s more, we’re seeing a young generation that’s used to the convenience of getting what they want, when they want it. As they increasingly demand more from the medical field, we’ll start to see change happen more rapidly — especially given the pressure placed on the system by the current pandemic.

And, while there are barriers for healthcare to keep pace with other industries — in terms of convenient home delivery — none are insurmountable.

Barrier One: Patient Privacy

Keeping patient data safe has been a sticking point for innovation in healthcare and rightly so. But moving forward, we’ll need to make sure we’re distinguishing between protecting sensitive information and simply being afraid of new technology that challenges — yet often improves — the way things have always been done.

To this end, those of us working to collectively push healthcare forward are watching two big names closely. Cerner, one of the largest electronic health record companies, teamed with Amazon Web Services this past fall, to move records to the cloud. The partnership aims, in part, to facilitate more patient-centric care by providing seamless access to records no matter where care is delivered.

Barrier Two: Equipment Portability

The emerging era of healthcare will also include more portability. Gone are the days, for example, when patients have to visit a doctor’s office for an ultrasound; now an ultrasound can be performed with a portable smartphone-like device

The COVID-19 crisis may also accelerate adoption of more self-administered sample collection like nasal swabs — which can be used to diagnose the common flu as well — expanding the possibilities of what can be done remotely.

Barrier Three: Managing Labor

To deliver care when and where it’s needed, the health industry needs a system to schedule and dispatch members of mobile teams.

That’s where Workpath comes in. Our scheduling automation tool helps mobile healthcare teams efficiently get the right medical professionals and services to patients at the time and place they’re needed. Whether medical couriers, phlebotomists, nurses, or doctors, the logistics of the mobile care have to be seamless on the backend in order to scale.

For patients healthcare access is key

There are good reasons for healthcare to follow industries like retail toward a more patient-centric future. Telehealth has already begun to show us why.

Using video chat to describe symptoms to a physician and receive a prescription promises convenience, but it may also improve health outcomes. Studies show telehealth can be particularly beneficial to people who live in rural areas, who might live far from physicians and specialists, and otherwise not have regular access to care. 

"Telemedicine can enhance not only access to care but also the quality of care provided in small rural hospitals," states the Perspectives in Health Information Management research journal.

Further, studies have shown that men can be particularly reluctant to visit doctor’s offices. Vault Health, which specializes in men’s health, is a prime example of a company that’s delivering health services to patients’ homes. A patient requests a health assessment; Vault Health dispatches a healthcare provider to the patient’s home to conduct the assessment, including a blood test. Once results are available, the healthcare provider and patient speak virtually to outline a treatment plan; treatments are delivered discreetly; and then the patient has access to ongoing home visits and virtual follow-ups.

Men may be more likely to seek care if they can do it in the privacy of their own homes.

Finally, though telehealth is not without its limitations, COVID-19 has demonstrated that telehealth can be essential. When paired with in-home care it could serve as a much lower cost way of providing comprehensive, patient-centric care into the future.

How COVID-19 might accelerate the patient-centric future

The king of online retail, Amazon, is now delivering coronavirus tests to the hard-hit Seattle, Wash. area, according to multiple news reports. It’s yet another example of how healthcare can look like the retail industry when there’s a demand.

In the health industry, there’s a lot we can learn from the world of retail — where services and products go directly to the consumer, there’s full transparency about the services being provided, and there are a plethora of options for consumers to choose from based on their individual needs. It’s just a matter of recognizing that this is the direction the healthcare industry is heading and doing our parts to make sure healthcare is advancing in a way that best serves patients.

While healthcare might never look quite like the food or retail industries, the sector has an opportunity to learn from its counterparts. And, more than ever, consumers are going to increasingly demand that we do so.

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Eddie Peloke is CEO of Workpath. The company’s software enables mobile healthcare services to schedule or dispatch on-demand the right professionals to perform the right care at the right time and place. See how mobile healthcare companies use Workpath’s HIPAA-compliant platform to cut costs, ensure compliance, improve patient satisfaction and more at Workpath.co.