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'Free market magic bringing Amazon-style convenience to healthcare?' Former ONC head asks

David Blumenthal, current CEO of Commonwealth Fund also wonders if the recent mergers foretell the end of traditional hospitals and nursing homes.

Bernie Monegain, Editor, Healthcare IT News

The U.S. healthcare system is not merely ripe for disruption, it is practically begging for it, according to former National Coordinator for Health IT David Blumenthal, MD.

In a Harvard Business Review Article published Thursday, Blumenthal poses the question: "Are old-guard institutions, like hospitals and nursing homes, on the verge of extinction?"

[Also: CVS Health to acquire Aetna for $69 billion]

Take CVS's planned $69 billion acquisition of Aetna and UnitedHealth's $4.9 billion deal to buy DaVita Medical Group, as two prominent examples. 

"The big question is whether these bold new combinations of insurer and provider can generate promising partnerships similar to a Kaiser or an Intermountain, or find some other equally powerful formula for disruption."

The reason this matters right now: Care is fragmented, inconvenient, hard to access, Blumenthal added, and that holds true most of all for the sickest people. 

[Also: Optum to buy DaVita Medical Group for $4.9 billion]

But if executed properly, the joint provider-payer organizations take on financial risk and responsibility for patients and the care clinicians deliver which, in turn, effectively forces everyone to focus on value. 

Not that success is a foregone conclusion that will come easily. Blumenthal also pointed out the future in uncertain and challenges remain, notably scaling UnitedHealth into a national enterprise and in both cases coordinating with healthcare systems and providers outside their own organizations. 

"It should come as no surprise, then, that when titans of our private, for-profit healthcare sector -- like Aetna, CVS, UnitedHealth Group (UHG), and DaVita -- strike out in new directions, stakeholders react with fascination and excitement," Blumenthal wrote. "Could this be it? Is free-market magic finally bringing Amazon-style convenience, quality, and efficiency to healthcare?"

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