HIMSS23: Best Buy, VillageMD execs on tech not getting in the way

Technology vendors and providers agree that digital health needs to improve provider workflows, increase access to care and avoid getting in the way.

Best Buy’s goal in healthcare is to ease operational challenges and allow clinicians to provide care where patients are located, said President Deborah Di Sanzo in a Wednesday panel at the Healthcare Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference in Chicago. The retail giant works with health systems to enable connectivity, supply medical devices and offer tech support for hospital-at-home programs. 

“We’re never going to deliver care,” Di Sanzo said. “We’re never going to be a pharmacy. We do technology. I want to make the technology work for the primary care physician, for that nurse.”

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Di Sanzo said health systems need the technology to essentially disappear for these programs to work more effectively so the physician and patient can be front and center. 

The retail company has grown its Current Health division through agreements with several health systems, including Advocate Health, Geisinger Health and Mount Sinai Health System. It acquired at-home care platform company Current Health for $400 million in October 2021.

While technology and artificial intelligence will help solve the country’s care needs, the industry needs to first improve its clinical processes and redefine team-based care strategies, Tim Barry, co-founder, chair and CEO of VillageMD, said on the same panel. Otherwise, healthcare organizations are just investing in and designing technology for a system that continues to fail, he said. 

VillageMD, which is a subsidiary of Walgreens Boots Alliance, acquired provider organization Summit Health-CityMD in an $8.9 billion deal in January. 

“We just wrote a really big check to become not just a primary-care based organization, but a multispecialty group,” Barry said. “And we did that because we believe we can create an overall better experience for our patients by being multispecialty, creating more connectivity and having investments in technology that allow us to work with all different types of organizations.”

VillageMD, which has more than 200 co-located clinics with Walgreens in 26 markets, uses technology to create more touchpoints between clinicians and patients, Barry said. The company is looking at data to proactively identify risk and prevent adverse events and readmissions. 

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These solutions aim to help clinicians focus on practicing medicine, though getting doctors to buy into artificial intelligence can be difficult, Barry said.

“It’s a matter of saying, ’This is the operational process that we’re going to execute on, every single time, every single day, every single patient, as if it was our own parents,’” Barry said. “Compared to the rest of the industry, I think we’re advanced, and I still give us a B-minus because we’re not doing well enough.”

During the pandemic, a large part of technology’s allure has been its ability to offset workforce shortages. Best Buy saw a number of nurses leave their clinical practice to join its Geek Squad team as a way to mitigate burnout, Di Sanzo said.

Health systems need to reimagine clinical roles from a human centered design standpoint to better fit the needs of clinicians and patients, said Andrea Walsh, president and CEO of HealthPartners, an integrated provider and insurance non-profit organization in Bloomington, Minnesota.

Digital solutions designed for one medical area embedded in a system’s electronic health record is not enough, Walsh said. The entire infrastructure has to be re-wired to be consumer driven and more accessible for patients and providers, she said. 

“One of the challenges that we face in creating satisfying practices is having technology not get in the way of patient care and having technology support the efficiency of practice,” Walsh said on the panel.

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