Here's what Walmart says about non-traditional companies moving into healthcare

David Hoke, who focuses on healthcare for the retail giant, said he's never seen anyone code empathy.
By Beth Jones Sanborn
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David Hoke

Innovation breeds choices and today consumers not only have options, but they expect them. At the same time, technology can't be the solution. It should be part of it, just not the whole plan. Providers must find partners, suppliers, tools, resources and developers who understand critically that this is all about the person.

"When designing the IT product, the technology isn't the end-all be all solution," David Hoke, senior director of associate health and wellbeing at Walmart, said. "Rather the technology is an enabler of a human solution. Then you have a chance."

Just don't be seduced by the scalability and the ability of programmers to create machine learning and potentially AI, Hoke added, only to omit the fact that health is life and life is emotional.

"I've never seen anyone code empathy. So that's the missing link in our reliance on technology," Hoke said. "It's bridging the digital divide to what could be one of the great concerns of the 21st century, which is isolation, loneliness and divisiveness."

Hoke's comments, and the Health 2.0 conference where he will be a panelist in the discussion titled The Frontier of Consumer Tech: Digital Therapeutics and Beyond, come as dominant companies such as Amazon, Google, IBM and Microsoft are stepping into healthcare and established organizations such as Anthem are leveraging cutting-edge technologies to improve the patient experience.

Make no mistake though. There is definitely room for more technology and it can be really useful with the transactional elements of healthcare. Eliminating friction for the consumer around efficiencies and quality and transparency is a great spot for technology to make a difference and enhance the patient experience.

Preventive medicine is also ripe for innovation. Imagine an annual physical, most of which is lab driven, where those tests are done at home and mailed in for analysis via an electronic algorithm supervised by physicians. Based on results, those people that actually needed to see doctor for deeper treatment could be identified and those with minor issues could receive appropriate wellness coaching or interventions.

"That concept to me feels like the right future to reach more people in a way that creates less burden on the system and a richer experience at the primary care level," Hoke said.

That model could be especially advantageous for hourly employees, for whom doctors visits can mean lost wages on several levels, from an initial visit to a separate visit for labs and a follow-up if there is an issue. 

Hoke added that he hopes the industry is encouraged by the fact that there is a dialogue around what's wrong, which is better than having one about what's right. Understanding that no one has all the answers also makes you feel less alone. 

"Nontraditional players are trying to solve these problems beyond the popular clinical enterprise," Hoke said. "This is a big tent. There's plenty of room for all of us to play."

Health 2.0

The Santa Clara conference will showcase cutting-edge innovation transforming healthcare Sept. 16-18.