Business Maverick

AFTER THE BELL

Can Amazon revolutionise healthcare and, importantly, help Mavis?

Can Amazon revolutionise healthcare and, importantly, help Mavis?
(Image: Unsplash | Wikimedia)

I suspect we modern people in the modern age think of our world as dramatically changed. We have cellphones, internet connections, Uber and Google maps, and bitcoin. We shout at people on Twitter, commiserate on Facebook and record our lives on Insta and TikTok. We have had the Second Industrial Revolution and then the third, and the Internet of Things, and now we are in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It’s been wild.

Life has changed so dramatically, so quickly, it’s close to unbelievable. I recently visited the town of George, where for some reason there is no Uber (Bolt is there now). My car was getting serviced and I needed a lift from the garage to the mall. The garage owner said, somewhat hesitantly, that I could call a cab. So I called the cab company, and the phone was answered on the 25th ring by someone whom I always think of as Mavis.

There were radios going in the background, phones calling, and Mavis was clearly going slightly nuts. I had to shout three times where I wanted to go. Granted, the address was complicated. “The mall,” I shouted. “Oh, the mall,” Mavis said. “Yes, the mall.” Step one complete. The taxi would be there in five minutes, Mavis said. It wasn’t. Half an hour later I phoned back. It’s coming. It didn’t. And so on. Eventually, I called to cancel the taxi, and the taxi arrived.

This is what our lives used to be like. You would bash your head against a wall of bad service, high-handedness, and overworked people at the coalface. And then Uber came along and all of a sudden, we became customers and not irritations. The drivers became our friends. They gave us water. Told us about the recent history of Zimbabwe, or what the protest was about that was causing us to reroute the trip. Tech magically transferred the power from the gatekeepers to us.

But, with all of this change, it’s interesting what has not changed.  One of the most fascinating people in tech is Marc Andreessen, the entrepreneur, investor, software engineer and now part of the famed venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. What he hasn’t done in tech probably wasn’t worth doing.

Andreessen has been on the interview circuit, and on one show with economist Tyler Cowen, Andreessen said: “I spent the first 25 years of my life trying to understand how machines work. Then I spent the second 25 years, so far, trying to figure out how people work. It turns out people are a lot more complicated.”

In a different interview with a different economist, Russ Roberts, Andreessen offered an interesting critical assessment of tech — something you hear very seldom from tech royalty. Andreessen said the big criticism he would level against Silicon Valley was that the business sectors being transformed by software were quite small.

If you think about it, the business sectors that tech has really transformed are media, music, film distribution, bookings, some parts of retail, and to a certain extent advertising, as well as some aspects of professional life. In terms of the GDP of the world, these sectors are not the big ones. But you can see the effect on these sectors, which is high productivity growth and disinflation.

You can see the opposite, inflation and low productivity growth, in the big sectors less transformed by tech. These are education, healthcare, housing, government and legal administration. “To me, those are the big five that I think about a lot,” said Andreessen.

Why are these the “slow” sectors? “There’s lots of aspects of regulatory capture and government entanglement and cartels and monopolies and indirect payment and so forth and so on. But, there’s also just a really big technology factor, which is: those sectors are not absorbing technology very fast.

“One of the big opportunities in my world is to go after those sectors; to inject new technology into those sectors in the same way that we’ve injected new technology into media, entertainment, retail and so forth”. This would all be an enormous help to humankind.

So, against this background, it is worth noting two things: Amazon just sent shockwaves through the health sector by buying One Medical, valued at $3.9-billion, which makes it Amazon’s third-largest acquisition. One Medical is a vertically integrated healthcare group, with almost 190 clinics, a subscription telehealth service, an electronic health record and contracts with thousands of employer clients, including Google.

The second thing to note is that, reputedly, Amazon is coming to SA. Amazon does exist in SA in the form of the cloud business and Amazon Prime, but the retail arm is resourced out of warehouses mainly outside the country. But my spies in the tech industry tell me Amazon has started contracting with suppliers to become a mainstream local marketplace.

Honestly, if they can do to healthcare — and do it here — what Uber and Lyft have done to the taxi industry, I’m for it. DM

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