Amazon vs. Walmart in healthcare: Who's winning and what it means for ASCs

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Walmart and Amazon see big opportunities in virtual health and clinics. Both made big announcements in early May, turning up the heat in their competition.

Amazon's healthcare arm, Amazon Care, expanded from providing virtual and on-site care to employees in Washington to offering services for self-insured employers. The company landed its first client, a fitness company acquired by Pelaton, May 5. It hopes to have contracts in all 50 states this summer, according to an Insider report.

Walmart Health, which has an established network of health clinics and $4 telehealth visits for employees, purchased the telehealth company MeMD May 6. The company said it aims to open 15 more health centers this year and have 4,000 clinics by 2029.

Walmart has the advantage for health centers, with convenient store locations in communities across the U.S., while Amazon is ahead in digital health and virtual care development. Amazon also has a more sophisticated strategy to bring care to patients, whether through its pharmacy line or as part of its Prime service.

Arielle Trzcinski, principal analyst at Forrester, told Insider, "The healthcare market is finally shifting to become more consumer-centric. These retail giants have both hit on the need to bring care to the consumer and are capitalizing on the seismic shift we see happening across the healthcare industry."

ASC owners and operators also see consumerism as a force driving competition, and many are changing their strategy.

"There are more creative technologies being developed that will be appealing to the savvy healthcare consumers who want to have their healthcare information available to them at their fingertips," said Becky Ziegler-Otis, administrator of Ambulatory Surgical Center of Stevens Point (Wis.).

She thinks price transparency technologies; patient engagement tools such as notifications, education and reminders; and health-tracking tools such as smart watches, will help coordinate care and improve the patient experience.

"Keeping abreast of these technology trends is important in looking for opportunities to leverage them in the ASC environment," she said.

As patients take on higher deductibles and become savvier about choosing a more personalized experience, ASCs can benefit as a low-cost boutique care provider.

"For the longest time, we have been discussing the ability of consumers to drive case migration through choice of the outpatient setting over the hospital due to the cost factor," said Andrew Lovewell, administrator of The Surgical Center at Columbia (Mo.) Orthopaedic Group. "I foresee that increasing. With that increase and the adoption of more high-deductible health plans, and the onus being put on the consumer to drive their own healthcare vehicle, that means there are going to be some breakout benefactors of this. ASCs could be one."

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