Mining prospects in health industry's 'new gold rush'

It’s like if KITT, the talking car on the 80s TV hit “Knight Rider,” consulted Hasselhoff about his excessive drinking while the two used advanced automotive and information-based technology to fight crime — and improve health outcomes.

That’s what I thought when I first read our story on DrugStoreNews.com last month about the new research partnership that will test the use of WellDoc’s DiabetesManager System to deliver health management services in Ford cars via the company’s voice-activated SYNC in-car connectivity system. (See: Drugstorenews.com/article/ford-developing-health-care-dashboard). The project opens another access point for sharing patient data, which similarly also can be accessed by the patients’ healthcare providers in their cars, via their mobile device and on the office computers.

Ford’s SYNC system also will enable access to SDI’s Pollen.com Allergy Alert, giving users voice-controlled access to location-based forecasts for four different conditions: allergy (pollen), asthma, cold and cough, and ultraviolet sensitivity.
Makes sense if you’re Ford. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, Americans spend more than 500 million “commuter hours” per week in their automobiles.

It’s also a pretty good example of how companies that have traditionally had no role in health care are looking at the sector as “one of the few bright spots in a sluggish economy,” as PriceWaterhouseCoopers noted in the recent report “The New Gold Rush: Prospectors are hoping to mine opportunities from the health industry.”

According to the research, 38 of the companies on the Fortune 50 have a connection to health care, and only 12 are traditionally focused on health care. PwC ranked the companies into four categories:

  • Fixers: Companies that identify broken parts of the U.S. healthcare system that they target with new products and solutions aimed at reducing waste. PwC example: Artificial Medical Intelligence, which has developed software that uses natural language processing technology to review electronic patient records and assign the proper diagnosis and procedure codes. Coding costs time and money and is expected to become more complex and more expensive, as new conventions expand the number of codes from about 17,000 to more than 150,000.
  • Implementers: Companies that target government programs, and regulatory and industry standards, and work across sectors to achieve one of the key goals of heath reform — to create a more integrated model. PwC Example: RTKL Associates, a global architecture and design firm that works with hospitals to redesign physical spaces in healthcare settings to improve efficiencies for patients and providers.
  • Retailers: Retailers prosper in high-volume, standardized markets with low margins. They use their deep customer relationships and ubiquitous access to serve new markets, such as primary care. PwC example: Walgreens, which, it noted is using its clinics, both retail- and employer-based, and other new wellness products to expand retail sales. (For more, see story page 14). CVS Caremark very easily could fit within this space; however, the company was not cited in the PwC report. In truth, this is bigger even than the two biggest companies in our industry, as it speaks to the larger trend of the retailization of health care.
  • Connectors: These are companies that link information and technology across the health system to enable meaningful analysis and accomplish another key goal of health reform: portability. PwC example: Zibbel, a mobile health technology company founded by a group of healthcare industry vets that has designed an app that collects data about patients when they are outside of the hospital/physician’s office, via such medical devices as weight scales, blood-pressure cuffs and glucose monitors.

Other examples of connectors — many of which fly below the Fortune 50 radar — are the 100-plus healthcare companies that exhibited tech-enabled healthcare devices, monitors and related products earlier this year at the annual Consumer Electronic Show. DSN senior editor Michael Johnsen conducted a special video interview with Consumer Electronics Association communications specialist Colleen Lerro to review some of the hottest items from the CES Digital Health Pavilion: Drugstorenews.com/video/cea.

“Health care is bursting with new products and services, such as health-related video games, services that rate hospitals and healthcare mobile applications,” PwC stated. According to the research, consumers would be willing to spend $13 billion of their own money on these types of products and services.
In the age of the “new normal,” where consumers still hate to part with a buck, that’s like found money for the smart retailers, Pharma and consumer packaged goods companies that choose to go after it.

What is your brand doing about it?

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