Aaron Martin is leaving his position as executive vice president and chief digital and innovation officer at Providence to return to Amazon, where he worked a decade ago on the Kindle e-reader, according to a Bloomberg news report.
Martin left Amazon eight years ago to set up the Providence Digital Innovation Group. The Seattle-based tech behemoth is much more interested in the healthcare space than it was a decade ago. Its Amazon Care virtual health services are now available nationwide—and in-person services will be rolled out in more than 20 new cities this year. Teladoc Health recently teamed up with Amazon to launch Teladoc on Alexa.
last year, Healthcare Innovation reported on a LinkedIn Q&A Martin conducted with Sara Vaezy, Providence’s chief digital strategy and business development officer. He recalled being surprised when he was contacted by a recruiter about moving from Amazon to a nonprofit health system. But he was impressed that Providence CEO Rod Hochman and President Mike Butler saw several things about digital disruption on the horizon and wanted to get out in front of them. “At that point, believe me, healthcare was not even a twinkle in anybody’s eye at Amazon,” he said. “As a matter of fact, I spent, a good hour explaining to my boss at Amazon, why I was going to go work for a health system. He was kind of checking me for sanity, at some level.”
The big issue that 51-hospital Providence and other health systems had confronted was digital disruption, and how to get ready for it, Martin said. He has helped establish several approaches, one being a venture fund.
He recalls Hochman talking about being at a conference with a bunch of other CEOs, and some consultant giving a presentation with a very complicated map of the digital landscape. “This was a few years ago, so I’m sure it’s 10 times worse today, and he could literally see beads of sweat rolling down the temples of his colleagues,” Martin said. But Hochman thought to himself that now he has a team that engages closely with these innovators, and can understand the difference between what’s real and what’s not. The ventures team play that role in terms of being a really good screen for things that will be “needle movers,” he said at the time.
Last year Martin noted that of the 22 active portfolio companies they’ve got, four of them now are valued at over $1 billion, and another of them is quickly heading in that direction, and all the other companies are doing extremely well. “If you start off with a fundamentally large problem, and you test it internally, you’re usually going to find a big market opportunity that these technology companies are going after. And you’ve usually found the best one, if you’ve field-tested it.”
“If we don’t have it, and we can’t find it, then at the very last resort, we’ll build it,” Martin said. “We have 120 or so very talented people who come from places like Amazon and Microsoft and various technology organizations. In addition to the operational role that they have in building the websites and apps, they also build new technologies for the purposes of spinning them out as a new companies.” They have done that twice before with a spin-out called Xealth, and they sold a product called Circle to a company called Wildflower.
Healthcare Innovation’s Mark Hagland also reported on Martin’s comments at HIMSS in Las Vegas last August. “I always say we live in a pretty tough neighborhood,” Martin said, referring to the intensity of the presence of organizations with analytics capabilities. “I can wave from my house to the guy who runs Amazon Care. And kitty corner to that is 98.6—so we’ve got two disruptors in our neighborhood. And COVID was a boon to disruptive organizations in healthcare. Because normally, you need to fund experiments to get consumers to try something. But the clinics got shut down and payments were equalized, and that created a massive marketing campaign for digital-first; patients loved it. While we were caring for the very sick patients, the digital-first disruptors got a leg up on trying out their wares. So if you’re in a health system as I am, you really have to think about your level of funding of digital, because it’s on,” he said, referring to the acceleration of analytics development.