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U.S. Health Care System: Ripe for Disruptive Innovation

Posted By Louise Probst, Tuesday, November 5, 2019

The idea of disruptive innovation in health care gets a lot of buzz. Electronic medical records, interconnectivity, Accountable Care Organizations, and the Amazon, Berkshire, and JPMorgan partnership are just a few of the innovations that have promised to transform health care in ways that delight customers. So far, though, the public is still waiting.


According to Harvard professor Dr. Clayton Christensen, the hallmarks of an industry ripe for disruption are high cost and uneven levels of access. He explains disruption as a process by which “simple applications take root at the bottom of a market—typically by being less expensive and more accessible—and then relentlessly move upmarket, eventually displacing established market leaders.” Successful disruptive innovators are comfortable challenging the status quo. Examples of success from other industries illustrate the concept well: the iPhone, Amazon, Uber, and Airbnb, to name a few.


Could Walmart be health care’s disruptive innovator, decreasing cost and closing the care gap while wowing customers? In September, Walmart announced that it would begin covering costs for any of its 1.5 million U.S. workers who want to earn a health care degree. For a fee of $1.00 a day, employees can apply for bachelor’s degrees in seven different programs, such as health care management and supply chain logistics, and two career diplomas—as pharmacy technicians or opticians. The program will help the company recruit employees and also staff its growing line of retail health clinics. It’s the latest in a series of moves that show Walmart’s potential to disrupt our dysfunctional health care system, and perhaps, higher education as well.


Consider this: Together, Walmart and Sam’s Club operate more than 5,000 retail pharmacies, 3,000 vision centers, and 400 hearing centers, and provide low-cost Quest Diagnostics lab services. The big box behemoth is accelerating its push to co-locate health clinics by its stores, most recently launching a Walmart Health Center that offers a full menu of primary care, dental, and even mental health services to customers in the underserved region of Dallas, Georgia. Walmart says its new clinic will serve consumers regardless of insurance status and offer convenient, online scheduling and transparent, low pricing. Consumers can also access resources for preventive health and wellness.


Rising health care costs and poor outcomes disproportionately hurt lower-income and middle-class families. Walmart wants to bring affordable services to underserved people right where they shop, including preventive care for the chronic conditions that bust health care budgets. Their retail health care model could improve population health on a broad scale while putting downward pressure on prices. If they succeed, that could be a game changer for our health care delivery system.


Join us at the 2019 BHC Annual Meeting to learn what employers can do to spur disruptive innovation in health care.

Warm regards,

Louise Probst
BHC Executive Director

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