The healthcare industry has been on an unsustainable path for a long time. While everyone agrees the system is broken, solutions have been hard to come by. It’s not easy to fix a complex, highly regulated, $3.6 Trillion industry, but the need for change is well recognized.
Better innovation through advanced technology has always been a key aspect of the vision to fix healthcare. And progress has been made, especially in the area of digitizing health records on large EMR systems of record, which is a foundational phase one requirement for transformation. It’s hard to digitize if all of the core information resides in paper folders.
Progress has been steady and slow with EMR technology. It has also created unforeseen new challenges related to process complexity and data interoperability, but the work of converting paper into bits is mostly in the rearview mirror.
After spending billions of dollars on EMR systems, the debate of “what’s next” was in full swing as we entered the 2nd decade of the 21st century. There have been countless opinions, and reports, and academic articles presenting different visions about what’s required to get healthcare on an innovation path that brings patients into the IT picture.
Most of the experts and influencers agree that patient engagement is the key next frontier for innovation in healthcare. If a majority of patients were to embrace digital solutions to manage their healthcare, the value potential could literally be off the charts. Unfortunately, the healthcare incumbents have struggled to engage their customers with technology. There are hundreds of thousands of tools out there, yet patients are not fully embracing anything yet. IT complexity and friction remain challenges.
At the same time, many of the big innovative consumer companies are making their moves into healthcare. Apple, Amazon, CVS, UBER and even Best Buy are determined to leverage their consumer engagement pedigrees to claim their slice of $3.6 Trillion healthcare prize.
I frequently wrote about the patient engagement challenges healthcare was facing in 2018 and 2019. The headlines of my blogs actually tell much of the story at the time.
Despite pockets of innovation success and visionary talks at the big conferences, the healthcare industry remains a decade behind other industries when it comes to engaging customers (patients) with modern IT experiences. A consumer can buy a $50,000 car on their iPad and get it delivered the next day, yet that same person gets handed a clipboard of paper forms to fill out before seeing their doctor for a routine exam. In 2020!
Something big and profound needed to happen in order to shake the industry into action. If the presence of giant, successful consumer innovation leaders wasn’t enough to shake the incumbents into a disruption mindset, maybe something else would do it.
In March 2020, it happened. The COVID-19 pandemic hit and suddenly there was no such thing as status quo. Providers shifted into a wartime-like survival mode and pharmaceutical companies went into warp speed to develop vaccines and treatments.
Now that we are years into living with the pandemic, one thing is clear: Innovation can’t wait. On one hand, it’s a matter of safety for patients and staff, but the real driver is a financial one. The labor shortage will could last for years and we are just scratching the surface of financial fallout that has resulted from COVID-19, but it’s not a pretty picture for healthcare.
The AHA once projected that America's hospitals were collectively losing $50 billion per month because of the pandemic. There is massive financial pressure that will force hospitals to rethink how they innovate as they recover from the COVID-19 area, and move forward.
Imagine a health system that has virtualized the entire experience around seeing a doctor. Some have already innovated with conversational digital assistants that allow patients to set appointments, check in, complete forms, manage referrals, fill prescriptions and prepare for procedures on their mobile devices, without the need to download and learn a proprietary app. They are giving patients the consumer experience they want, they have extended their digital footprint beyond the EMR systems of record, and they’re doing more with less.
While the reason for all the sudden change is unfortunate for everyone, the silver lining may be what comes out on the other side, a few years from now. It’s entirely possible that the innovation clock speed that was forced upon the healthcare industry as a matter of survival results in a reimagined, digital patient experience that was previously only in the domain of conference keynote presentations.
Advanced, agile technology that’s mobile and simple for patients to use is getting implemented to scale engagement horsepower because it doesn’t take many years and millions of precious dollars to pull off.
Millions of patients are interacting with conversational digital assistants to prepare for appointments because of COVID, and it’s unlikely they will want to go back to the old ways of doing business with their healthcare providers.
These are challenging times for every business and consumer on the planet. For industries like healthcare that had lots of work to do in order to transform into a more patient-friendly operational mode, a global pandemic may be the thing that kicks it into a different gear.