Amazon, Walmart, and  Best Buy are three of the biggest names in retail. And despite the ruthless competitive nature of their relationship, all three are currently thriving. 

But over the past few years, each of these companies has been planning to venture into a completely new industry, one that's worth almost four trillion dollars and is inviting disruption:

It's the health care industry.

"Health care is overly complex, has not evolved all that much over time, and remains a frequent pain point for customers. All of these factors make health care ripe for disruption," Morgan Stanley analyst Simeon Gutman recently told Bloomberg.

It's a fact: The health care system is broken. Without health insurance, costs are astronomical--a single visit to the hospital can put the average American in debt for the rest of their life. And while insurance companies may ease that burden, their plans are complicated and give patients little control. Meanwhile, pharmaceutical companies have built a reputation as greedy profit mongers who care more about investors than people.

Which is exactly why Amazon, Walmart, and Best Buy have their sights set on health care as their next target.

Here's a brief summary of where each company is currently focusing its efforts--and a look at who the real winner is.

Amazon

Jeff Bezos's "everything store" is already in full-scale attack mode when it comes to several health care initiatives. Just consider the following moves the company has recently taken:

Health insurance: Last year Amazon announced what is now known as "Haven," a joint venture with Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase that endeavored to tackle the enormous challenges of health care and harness its full benefits.

"By bringing together three of the world's leading organizations into this new and innovative construct, the group hopes to draw on its combined capabilities and resources to take a fresh approach to these critical matters," the companies said in a statement.

Pharmaceutical: Also last year, Amazon acquired online pharmacy PillPack for $1 billion. On the day the acquisition was announced, Walgreens, CVS, and Rite Aid lost a combined $10 billion in market cap.

Health care: Now the company has introduced Amazon Care, a clinic that serves Amazon employees and their families in the Seattle area. Amazon Care claims to offer:

  • near-instant answers to health questions from a qualified professional (via in-app text chat);
  • in-app video visits with a doctor or nurse practitioner for advice, answers, diagnoses, treatment, or referrals;
  • in-person visits from a nurse to a patient's home or office to administer an exam, testing, or treatment; and,
  • prescriptions delivered right to your door.

Although for now Amazon Care is a pilot program, it doesn't take a genius to see where this is headed. Amazon has developed what investing website The Motley Fool terms a "playbook for disruption":

Put customers first. Invent on their behalf. Test ideas internally. Test on Amazon employees before opening it up to the public.

It's worked time and again, in various industries such as e-commerce and cloud computing. And now it's time for Amazon to disrupt the medical field.

Walmart

The world's largest retailer has also made major moves into health care.

Walmart opened its first clinics several years ago, all of which were incorporated into its retail stores. But the company has now opened a new, standalone clinic in Dallas, Georgia, known simply as "Walmart Health." The clinic's website claims to offer "a variety of care services for affordable prices," including primary care, dental, and even mental health counseling.

Already one of the largest pharmacy companies in the U.S., this move makes sense for Walmart. If successful, it could provide a more direct connection between health care and medicine providers, streamlining processes and bureaucracy--another major pain point for patients.

And Walmart's venture into counseling could also mean big things in the long run. Mental health advocates believe offering counseling in places like Walmart can help destigmatize mental health care and make it more accessible to those who need it.

Best Buy

Best Buy, one of the few electronics retailers to not only survive but thrive in recent years, has also recently revealed a focus on health care--although its plans differ a bit from Amazon and Walmart.

At an investor meeting last week, the company announced a plan to sell more of the tech products and services that support the health industry, including fitness machines and health-monitoring assistance for seniors.

Best Buy has spent over $1 billion on health-related acquisitions in the past year alone. And it recently hired Daniel Grossman, a physician and medical-product expert who also practices at the Mayo Clinic, to serve as chief medical officer (according to a recent Bloomberg report).  

As for its foray into health services, we'll have to wait and see exactly what Best Buy has up its sleeve. But the strategy follows other technology-focused companies who continue to look for alternate (and consistent) revenue streams. "People are spending less money on stuff," Brian Owens, an analyst at Kantar Consulting, told Bloomberg. "As you evolve into health care, the big opportunity is simplicity. And people trust Best Buy."

The big winner

So, which one of these companies is poised to make the greatest impact on the health care industry?

The truth is, it really doesn't matter. The key is that for the first time in a very long time, companies are asking the right questions. Questions like:

  • What's broken?
  • How can we fix it?
  • How can we make the patient experience better?

Regardless of how you feel about these three companies, the fact that they're now competing to provide solutions to these questions is a good thing. They've put the legacy health care companies on notice: Start working for the patient, or prepare to be phased out.

And that makes it obvious who the real winners are in all of this: you and me.

Published on: Sep 30, 2019
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