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Technology in healthcare: Compete or collaborate?

Providers face the unusual task of identifying tech partners who aren’t aiming to replace them.

Consumer preferences are changing, and tech companies of all sizes are disrupting care delivery models. Many traditional providers are partnering with these tech vendors to adapt.

When doing so, healthcare providers must be aware of the long-term goals of these vendors, particularly if these vendors ultimately aim to be the brand patients turn to for care.

Tech platforms are increasingly becoming the patient-facing brand

In this platform-based digital space, many tech vendors aim to become the “front door” of healthcare – the trusted place patients think to turn to when they need care. Some vendors are already doing this, while there are signs others are on their way.

American Well is a good example. Many providers have partnered with American Well to move quickly into telehealth. American Well provides physicians that are ready to help providers launch telehealth services and handle overflow. American Well has thousands of employed or contracted physicians and is constantly recruiting more.

Increasingly, American Well’s doctors are providing care, and they’re expanding on how they do so. American Well and Cisco recently announced they’re partnering on a venture to convert in-home television sets into patient portals for telehealth purposes.

American Well and Cisco are careful to say that they plan to “extend care delivery from hospitals and health systems into the home,” but that may only be temporary. Once American Well is the known platform that controls both the provider and patient experience, the health systems will simply become “content” for their platform – if they even remain a necessary part of it. American Well may become the brand patients know and develop loyalty to.

Tech vendors aren’t just disrupting how patients access telehealth. Right now, Zocdoc is shaking up how patients find providers, while angering some of its early provider customers with pricing changes. Countless tech companies are competing with traditional health systems in a variety of ways.

Healthcare providers: Before you partner, ask questions

There are many factors to consider when deciding whom to work with to build your telehealth platform, digital experience solution, analytics infrastructure, mobile strategy and whatever else is on your information technology plate. I suggest providers consider the following questions in this process:

  • Who is most likely to try to replace you as the patients’ “front door” to healthcare?
  • Are you (or could you be) advancing your future competitor? Is this a firm that could eventually cut you out of the loop?
  • Are you reinforcing your brand at all consumer touch points?
  • Should and can you be your own platform? If not, who should you partner with?

As in many other sectors, innovative firms are building strategies and tools that can scale nationally. The technology exists now for patients to easily and seamlessly connect to providers through email, text and video on mobile apps. That means healthcare is becoming less “local.” If a consumer-facing, front-door focus was not a major factor in your past technology partnerships, it must be now.

Let’s work together to stay in the driver’s seat

Healthcare providers should work together to build platforms for sharing resources, providing services and caring for patients — platforms controlled for the greater good. A public/private type of arrangement might work; think of the current health information exchanges and the Statewide Health Information Network for New York as possible examples.

Providers do not need to cede this space to the new healthcare Amazon – which could very well be Amazon.