I’m a big believer in learning business lessons wherever and whenever I can. I may hear a speaker suggest something or read a column that gets me thinking of how to apply that idea or concept to our business. Even when the issue is clearly ions away from our primary interests, I can almost always find a parable or analogy that brings the learning back to what’s in front of me.
Even so, many might say it’s too far a stretch for me to see a lesson applicable to the medical device industry, or even the broader healthcare sector, in the Amazon acquisition of Whole Foods last month. Let me explain why this transaction actually teaches a critical lesson for all of us concerned with bringing innovation to the world’s doctors, nurses and, most importantly, patients.
Beyond the almost cliché role of disruptor, which it has been perfecting since the days the company started changing how and where books are sold, Amazon is also showing that it can cross channels to make them more efficient for the ultimate consumer. What Jeff Bezos did by forcing publishers, authors, and everybody else along the book supply chain to cut their costs, he is now attempting to do with groceries. The outcome for food manufacturers may be as existensially challenging as it was for book sellers.
Apply this lesson of disintermediation and productivity enhancement to the healthcare industry with technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and you have the colliding of disruptors that simultaneously knock existing companies off of their current models. This has the immediate impact of propelling the patient or end user to the front of the line when it comes to improved diagnosis and ultimately improved outcomes. With AI and advanced machine learning algorithms, improved healthcare will result from the ability to instanteously reveal intelligent information from totally different data sets. For example, the marrying of detailed, pattern matching information from Neurology, Radiology and Psychiatry may very well improve optimal clinical and medical solutions for patients.
The AI market for healthcare applications, which is expected to double every two years for the next decade, should also result in reduced treatment costs and the elimination of unnecessary hospital procedures. Soon enough, chronic conditions like cancer, Alzheimers disease, and chronic traumatic brain injuries will be diagnosed in minutes. This will be accomplished by using AI applications systems that identify and compare all available characteristics in the patients medical history, testing, scanning, blood markers and other available information. If that’s not an industry disruptor, I don’t know what one is.
The primary question to companies facing this onslaught, like those now assessing the combination of Amazon and Whole Foods, is what can I do to keep up? A recent column on the Amazon acquisition of Whole Foods at Forbes.com captures this perfectly, particularly a few sentences toward the end; “Innovators have already been using Big Data, AI and ML. And if you’re hearing about them now, it might be too late.”
John A. Kelley, Jr., is Chairman and CEO of CereScan, a functional brain diagnostics company headquartered in Denver.