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New entrants into the healthcare market threaten traditional businesses

Nontraditional healthcare companies are offering consumers services in the settings they want

New entrants in the healthcare market could snatch billions of dollars of revenue from traditional healthcare companies if the traditional companies do not move faster to provide services in the setting consumers want.

Startups and companies from other industries “are nibbling at the edges of the traditional healthcare ecosystem” as consumers become “willing to abandon traditional care venues for more affordable and convenient alternatives,” wrote Kelly Barnes in a PwC report called “Who will be the industry’s Amazon.com?” Barnes heads PwC’s U.S. health industries practice.

A recent PwC survey of 1,000 adults found that nearly half are interested in paying for and receiving services outside of traditional venues for minor problems, such as using at-home kits for strep throat or online consultations for skin rash evaluations, and many are also interested in getting more complex services at home, online or in retail settings if it’s more affordable and convenient.

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More than a third said they’re open to digital, home-based electrocardiograms, pacemaker/defibrillator monitoring, urinalysis and chemotherapy treatment, along with online physician consultations. About a quarter of those surveyed would also be open to receiving dialysis or MRIs in a retail clinic.

If even a fraction of consumers end up using at-home, online and retail options for those tests and treatments, traditional medical practices and health systems could lose billions of dollars in revenue – something nontraditional medical providers are betting on.

New entrants coming from a variety of industries “regard their global reach, customer insights, commitment to transparency and trusted brands as critical assets to capture and dominate the fragmented health sector,” Barnes wrote in her report.

Twenty-six of 2013’s Fortune 50 companies were new entrants in healthcare, PwC found, including seven retailers, eight technology and telecommunications companies and even two automakers looking for ways to add chronic disease care services to their products.

Here’s a glance at some of the moves into the healthcare market nontraditional companies have made recently:

  • In 2012, AT&T opened its mHealth platform to developers to tap into the mobile application boom.
  • Samsung’s new smartphone comes with a built-in heart rate monitor.
  • Apple is expected to unveil a mobile health product soon.
  • Time Warner Cable is experimenting with the Cleveland Clinic in offering telehealth video consults.
  • Google recently launched a company called Calico, offering few details other than a focus on aging and its related diseases.
  • Walgreens, 37 on the Fortune list, has been targeting consumer health for some time, for instance offering some $400 million worth of immunizations annually, a 4 percent share of a $10 billion market.
  • Wal-Mart, which may turn out to be one of the biggest competitors for healthcare providers (and/or one of their most promising partners), debuted its $4 generic drug program in 2006 and has been looking for more health business ever since. Walk-in clinics affiliated with regional hospitals can now be found in many Walmart stores from Maine to California. Last year, Kaiser Permanente opened micro-clinics offer teleconferencing to KP nurses and physicians in two Walmart stores. That service is available to shoppers and store employees.

But all is not dire for traditional healthcare companies, wrote Barnes. Some have recognized the threat and have taken action, often by buying companies, partnering or creating new business lines.

UnitedHealth Group, for instance, recently purchased digital health startup Audax. And in greater Philadelphia, Temple University Health System operates four “ReadyCare” retail clinics; Einstein Health has two walk-in clinics, including one in a Shop Rite grocery store; Abington Health is in the midst of opening two urgent care centers; and the Rothman Institute, the region’s largest orthopedic group, has several urgent care centers in the works after their first, in Marlton, N.J., opened last year.

These innovations by traditional healthcare companies not only allow them to compete with the new entrants (or head them off), they have the ability to reduce costs, noted Barnes in her report.

“A hospital with a value-based care contract could find it cost-effective to send patients to local retail clinic partners rather than surgeons to have post-operative stitches removed,” she wrote.

As more nontraditional healthcare companies move into the space and traditional companies respond, “traditional healthcare business will look and feel like other consumer-oriented, technology-enabled industries,” within the decade, predicted Barnes in the PwC report. “Soon, (the healthcare market) will have its own Amazon.com-style, iconic, new economy brands.”

This story is based on a report appearing on Healthcare Payer News.