Walk This Way: Fully-automated Health Clinics Ahead of Their Time or Timely?

Amazon named it “Just Walk Out.” The idea is simple enough, but it’s actually powered by highly intelligent technologies and gadgets. Amazon’s “Just Walk Out” is the cameras, artificial intelligence, sensors and an app that let you stroll into an Amazon Go store and grab whatever groceries you want without ever standing in a checkout line while you are automatically billed for the purchase.

In the healthcare industry, we might call it “Just Walk In.” With the continuing growth of healthcare consumerism, we know patients want their medical experience to mimic their retail experience. “Just Walk In” adopts many of the technologies used by Amazon to create an artificial-intelligence infused patient experience that turns the traditional medical experience into one that looks more like a retail encounter.
Before getting into the “Just Walk In” proposal, let’s take a look at who our customers are and why they expect something new and different.

Who is the Healthcare Consumer and Why Should We Care?

The who: Millennials. The why: This generation’s size. Millennials are now the largest generation in the U.S. today with 75.4 million living throughout the country.

Healthcare providers must understand from the outset that this group expects an entirely different patient experience than past generations. They expect their patient/provider experience to be consistent with the online retail experience, which is all about “me.” Google search data supports the growing “me” trend. The search giant has found a marked increase in searches featuring “me,” “my” and “I.” In the past two years, the search terms “for me” and “should I” have increased 60 percent and 80 percent, respectively.

Millennials want to be involved in the decision-making process. They will read and act on online reviews. They will compare costs to make sure they get what they pay for. They’ll crowdsource the best (price, availability, treatment options, convenience) doctors and clinics.

“Just Walk In” Clinic or the Robot Will See You Now

There are an estimated 2,800 retail clinics today, which, with few locations in 2016, generated sales of more than $1.4 billion. Last year the clinics added enough extra capacity to accommodate 25 million visits, an increase from 16 million visits in 2014. The popularity of clinics likely will continue to grow as healthcare consumers contend with rising premiums, deductibles, prescription costs and more.

Thankfully, our fictitious but possibly soon-to-be-real “Just Walk In” Clinic is cost effective since it’s staffed by robots and other sophisticated technologies. Adopting the Amazon Go model, we could create an automated healthcare experience that would satisfy a new generation of healthcare consumers by making the experience convenient, fast, inexpensive and digital, while effectively treating non-critical healthcare needs.

Here’s a hypothetical walk-through of the new experience:
  • Doctor’s office closed: Clinic is open 24/7 every day of the year
  • Acute or life-threatening health issue: Clinics communicate directly with 911 to dispatch an ambulance to the site, while providing the patient’s insurance information, including PCP and in-network hospitals
  • Charges: Billed directly through the app, including any co-pay or the option to pay cash
  • Language barrier: Robots are fluent in every language
  • Bedside manner: Patients don’t need to worry about the doctor spending time filling out an electronic EMR or taking notes. The robot is the EMR
  • Prescriptions: Automatically dispensed at the end of the appointment
  • Referrals or lab tests: Clinics are connected to every major insurance carrier and reference lab and can process a prior authorization and even arrange an appointment in real-time
  • Non-RX essentials needed before leaving: A limited number of over-the-counter items are available for purchase using a smartphone connected to any number of payment services, including a health savings account
  • Robot report: Each visit includes a full report explaining the evaluation, suggested treatment and any prescriptions. All the information is uploaded in real-time to the patient’s personalized EMR and to the PCP’s EMR
  • Follow-up: Text message reminders are sent to patients in the days after the appointment to ensure health and wellness are maintained 
The shift to healthcare consumerism is creating more educated and informed patients who are demanding services when and where they want it and aren’t afraid to check prices or online reviews. Whether good or bad and, frankly, there’s no turning back at this point, healthcare consumerism is looking more and more like retail.
 
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