It’s no secret that some of the country’s biggest tech companies like Amazon and Alphabet are entering the healthcare market. They’ve had mixed success, with some expensive missteps in recent years. For instance, Amazon had to mothball its Amazon Care project, unable to turn the pilot program into a financially sustainable model. And while the medical alert smartwatch is easy for seniors to use when designed for purpose, it proves not so easy as an after-market healthcare app added to an already complex watch. Often, the patient struggles as a consumer of big-tech healthcare.
There’s a clear gap in the healthcare system between providers and patients. The tech giants are struggling to bridge that space, but big box stores may have more success. Without the budget or tech development labs of Microsoft and other companies, what the retailers do bring to the table is a deeper understanding of what their customer base needs. And now Best Buy’s Geek Squad may be coming to a living room near you, ready to outfit the home with remote health monitoring tech.
Smart Risks and Ambitious Plans
Best Buy, like a number of similar big-box stores, is diversifying into fields not originally within their business model. They are setting up connections within the healthcare space with multiple healthcare providers such as giants like Mount Sinai Health System, and local networks like Atrium Health of North Carolina. Unlike some of the big tech companies’ ventures, Best Buy isn’t attempting to compete directly with existing services in the space. Instead, the company is building the infrastructure needed to connect hospital services with patients at home.
Best Buy’s current deal with Atrium Health is a hospital-at-home program. Atrium buys health monitoring devices from Best Buy for certain approved patients. This can be paid for through some types of insurance, including Medicare. The Geek Squad will mobilize at the patient’s home to set up those devices. Critically, the patient and their caregiver are then trained on how to use and troubleshoot the machines – a dedicated service currently only poorly existing in healthcare.
Once the home health monitoring system is set up, the patient’s medical data can be monitored remotely. Nurses at the nearest hospital can log in through Current Health’s telemedicine hub. That hub lets them keep a close eye on their remote patients.
Current Health is one of Best Buy’s recent acquisitions. The big box company has also acquired GreatCall and Critical Signal Technologies. Both provide Personal Emergency Response Systems and accessible cell phones, among other senior-optimized tech.
Patients are eager to get convenient home-based healthcare. This is especially true for older or medically fragile people, perhaps alone and aging in place in their home. Hospital systems straining at the seams could find virtual hospital rooms the key to managing their workloads. Best Buy seems to have a clear plan to become a much-needed go-between in the space.
The Problem with Silver Tech and Healthcare
Silver tech is a catchy term for technology-based solutions that are tailored for seniors. It aims to help older adults live longer, happier, healthier lives. This slice of the tech market has grown by leaps and bounds recently. Development companies see the clear potential of a once-ignored demographic.
Many seniors are open to using technology that helps them maintain their independence and wellbeing. However, they often have a steep learning curve when it comes to adopting tech. Their caregivers may also struggle with this technology. Setting up device networks and troubleshooting error codes may be beyond their capabilities.
Many silver tech companies drop their products in the marketplace and move on to developing the next version. This puts the burden of setup and use training on the healthcare system or the patients themselves. As we’ve seen, a patient who might be elderly and in poor health could find this a huge barrier. What about the hospital system? They work with health monitoring devices and telemedicine hubs all the time. Healthcare systems should have no problem setting up these virtual hospital rooms, right?
Apparently not. The healthcare system that struggled before Covid-19 is under even more strain now. Hospitals from coast to coast are faced with record staff shortages and burnout. Patients who put off important procedures during the height of the pandemic are coming in waves. Tech development companies are asking a lot when they launch their devices without live, in-person support.
They are asking those overburdened nurses and other staff to learn about the new tech atop their own duties. Then the healthcare worker needs to travel to a patient’s home which could be somewhere rural an hour’s drive away. It might take a whole afternoon to set everything up and train on device usage. If something goes wrong later on, the staff member might have to drive back again to check the tech. It’s no wonder hospitals haven’t jumped on this opportunity despite all the potential benefits.
Best Buy’s Market Niche
Best Buy’s remote patient monitoring program is still at a small scale. The initial roll-out through Atrium Health embraces just 10 hospitals and serves a modest number of initial patients. However, the store chain has invested enough in this space that it’s clear that it won’t be chased off by early stumbles.
Best Buy’s strategic acquisitions and years of providing tech customer service may pay off here in a big way. Silver tech could connect hospital systems with remote patients, but only if someone can set it up. The Geek Squad may be just the solution that this space needs, perhaps even serving, in the gig economy, as a structured way to enlist new homecare helpers into a space that badly needs more help.