Protecting from disruption by disrupting from within

Draws lessons from Amazon's business practices
By Gus Venditto
10:01 AM
Aaron Martin

Aaron Martin did not have a traditional hospital IT background when he was hired by Providence Health & Services to be its senior vice president for strategy and innovation. He was fresh from eight years at Amazon, where he was responsible for launching on-demand publishing and managing Kindle's content acquisition business.

His mission at Providence is exactly what you might expect: Disrupt healthcare before someone comes in and does it to them.

"To continue to support our mission we need to be able to defend our commercial interests against competitors," Martin told the audience at the National Healthcare Innovation Summit, in a presentation titled "Moving From Cost Reduction To Revenue Development."

Now with 18 months of healthcare experience, he is applying the same techniques that were successful at Amazon, which set out to find businesses it could disrupt. In publishing, Amazon saw a supply chain that included authors, publishers, distributors, bookstores and readers. But the only two that mattered were authors and readers. And so Amazon set out to replace everyone standing between those two camps.

Healthcare has a similar supply chain – connecting clinicians, health systems, insurers, employers and patients.

"We're all expendable, unless you are a physician," said Martin.

To create new sources of revenue for the health system, Martin believes strongly in Lean product development, a method he says is "accepted gospel truth" in digital businesses. It was advanced in Eric Ries' book The Lean Startup, and advocates a continuous cycle of product improvement that incorporates measurement and product improvement based on measured performance.

One of his first launches at Providence is Health eXpress, a telehealth product that offers patients a $39 online healthcare visit without an appointment.

In development is Providence Home Visit, a breakthrough Martin called "an Uber for healthcare." Built with Medicast's care-on-demand platform, Providence Home Visit will arrange for a doctor to visit a patient at their home or work for $99. This program is currently in a pilot run.

To reduce risk, Martin has been working with Avia, a healthcare accelerator, which has helped Providence establish relationships with non-competitive health systems like Sutter Health, Mayo Clinic and Saint Francis Medical Center.

Martin has established a roadmap for the three years. In 2015, he is focused on the basics "make healthcare online similar to other industries." In 2016, Providence will prioritize "on-demand healthcare, telehalth, my schedule and in home." In 2017, the plan is to be working on a healthcare care team that connects  clinicians with families and friends using apps that are supported by algorithms.

"We need the whole industry to get better," he said.