How Come I Can’t…?


Walmart believes in helping people save money so they can live better. Kroger’s purpose is to feed the human spirit. Amazon’s vision is to be Earth’s most customer-centric company. At EnsembleIQ and Retail Leader, we believe in solving big problems and inspiring bold ideas. For more on what that means to EnsembleIQ’s new CEO,  David Shanker, check out our conversation on pages 28 and 29.

As an organization, we aren’t alone in wanting to solve big problems with bold ideas. I was reminded of this at the recent National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) Annual Meeting. Since I first attended this event 25 years ago, NACDS has been fighting a big problem: advocating for pharmacies and pharmacists and the value they bring to the health care delivery ecosystem. The challenge may be familiar, but NACDS has plenty of bold ideas. For more on that check out what CEO Steven Anderson has to say in this issue’s “What’s Next,” column on page 42. Anderson, NACDS and its members will be busy for many, many years because there are a lot of big problems in health care and retailers figure prominently in many solutions.

Identifying big problems with health care is easy. Coming up with bold ideas isn’t that hard either. Because health care affects everyone there are lots of ideas in the big three opportunity areas of access, cost and outcomes. Many ideas are politically charged and contentious. Proposals get dissected and distorted in terms of winners and losers and who pays how much. When there are changes they tend to be incremental and costs always seem to go up.

Because the current approach to fixing health care isn’t working, there was a euphoric moment back in January when Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffet and Jamie Dimon revealed the formation of a health care-focused  joint venture. JP Morgan CEO Dimon, in his recent shareholder’s letter, said the goal is to “help improve the satisfaction of our healthcare services for our employees (that could be in terms of costs and outcomes) and possibly help inform public policy for the country.”

This is the moment we’ve been waiting for, right? Something good has to come from the efforts of three of the world’s smartest and richest people bringing new vision and energy to the situation. Especially with Bezos involved. He’s CEO of a company that aspires to be Earth’s most customer-centric company and now he’s applying his vision to a sector of the economy largely untouched by the forces of customer centricity. Amazon is one of those companies that has created new consumer expectations other retailers have to meet. Its efforts and those of other innovators leads to a, “how come I can’t…?” mindset as people expect similar experiences from other retailers or sectors of the economy. Apply that thinking to the world of health care for a minute.

How come I can’t use facial recognition and video calling to communicate with a doctor about an easily diagnosable condition, obtain a prescription, fill it at a nearby pharmacy and maybe even have it delivered by a terrestrial or aerial drone in less than an hour?

How come I can’t know what health care products and services cost prior to receiving those services and who is going to be charging me for those services? The retail industry is all about price transparency, but not health care. Imagine if a shopper went to his local supermarket, had to choose from a list of items approved by a third party and then made a small payment at checkout. Months later the shopper receives multiple bills from manufacturers whose brands he wasn’t aware he purchased at prices negotiated by others and maybe a facility charge for accessing the store.

So many things in our daily lives are faster, cheaper and better. But those attributes are never used to describe health care. That’s why my bold idea is for Bezos, Buffet and Dimon to expand their search for bold ideas by including more smart people. Walmart President and CEO Doug McMillon and CVS Health President and CEO Larry Merlo would be good, but why not add some technology innovators such as Apple CEO Tim Cook and Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff? If a group like this were to begin the quest for solutions by asking, “how come I can’t?” we might end up with a health care system that is faster, cheaper and better. The improvement can’t come soon enough for retailers who are expected to shoulder the ever growing burden of paying for employee health care.