PROVIDENCE — For years, Rhode Island’s two largest health care systems — Lifespan Corp. and Care New England — have competed against each other. Since the early 1990s, the two have even attempted to merge in order to relieve some of their labor and financial pressures.
But on Wednesday, Lifespan’s president and CEO John Fernandez said he is putting the hospital owner’s past behind, and made it clear that there was “no” way that Lifespan and Care New England will attempt to merge again — a plan that was last blocked by state and federal regulators in early 2022.
“It’s not just going to be the same old-same old,” Fernandez said to a packed room at the Rhode Island Convention Center during the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce’s annual economic luncheon, which included about 500 local business leaders.
Instead, companies that specialize in artificial intelligence and digital tech are Lifespan’s biggest competitors to tackle, Fernandez said.
“There’s Amazon,” Fernandez said. “Uber Eats is even trying to get into health care.”
Amazon recently expanded to offer telehealth services across the nation under Amazon Clinic, which has put hospitals and other health care systems on alert. First debuted in November 2022, Amazon Clinic allows patients in most states to message clinicians through a secure portal to access personalized treatments and prescriptions for common conditions like migraines, urinary tract infections, and even birth control.
In some areas of the country, hospital executives said they plan to work harder to compete with the tech giant. In other cases, CEOs said they will have to partner with Amazon to offer what the corporation cannot: in-person care.
CVS Health, which is headquartered in Woonsocket, is also trying to expand its health care offerings for consumers, such as building out its primary care programs and other health care services.
“[CVS] is in our state,” Fernandez said. “We should be looking to them: What are they doing well? What can we do better together?”
Uber Eats, which has long delivered takeout from restaurants and groceries, will allow users to pay for groceries using SNAP and EBT benefits in 2024. Uber Health, which is the delivery platform’s health care arm, has recently added the delivery of over-the-counter medications to its HIPAA-enabled platform through the Uber Eats platform.
Dr. Michael Wagner, the new chief executive officer of Care New England, said he is “not surprised” that retail and tech companies are coming after the health care industry.
“We’re way behind,” Wagner said about traditional health organizations like the one he leads. He said he wants to get to the point where Care New England patients can go to an app to more easily connect with their physicians. That might mean having to partner with startups and national tech giants.
“We also provide a lot of services that are perfect for asymmetric competitors to come in and do it in a better, faster way,” said Wagner, who described the future of health care to include “virtual hospitals.” “How do we meet that challenge while also, at the same time, be the safety net organizations for our communities?”