The COVID-19 pandemic and all of the sweeping changes it brought with it was something that almost no one, including CEOs of major healthcare organizations, saw coming.
Sachin Jain, the president and CEO of SCAN Group and SCAN Health Plan, shared his experiences and takeaways from the rapid digital health evolution during the keynote speech at HIMSS’ Accelerate Health digital series Tuesday.
“For many years, many – including myself – have speculated that digital health would become a dominant mode of healthcare delivery. But we waited,” Jain said during the event. “We waited for the culture of medicine and healthcare to change. We waited for payment policies to catch up and adapt and become more favorable to the adoption of digital health technologies. We waited for the public to become more accepting of virtual care.”
It wasn’t until the pandemic forced what was previously an almost completely in-person healthcare delivery system into a completely virtual one in a matter of days that the wait for digital health was over.
For Jain, the most notable realizations he’s had during this transformation were that it doesn’t need to be slow and that the industry had been harboring hurtful stereotypes about digital healthcare.
“In the world I work in, which is senior care, there’s always this dominant perception that aging adults either couldn’t or wouldn’t use digital technologies to access care,” he said. “What is now clear is that we were operating with unhelpful, wrong-minded stereotypes. Necessity truly is the mother of invention.”
The moment Jain realized this came when he accompanied his mother to a virtual care appointment.
As an old-school woman herself, Jain’s mother looked for three features of a good visit: eye contact, active listening and a thorough physical exam, all things that can be difficult during a virtual visit.
All of the worries Jain felt fell to the wayside when his mother remarked at how much she enjoyed her visit.
“She felt heard. She felt listened to. And with some of her age and condition related mobility challenges, she especially appreciated how she didn’t have to travel to the doctor's office, navigate a maze of elevators and hallways, languish in a waiting room, all for a 20-minute visit,” Jain said.
He saw similar situations occurring with the seniors he worked with. When presented with the need to adopt technology, many seniors did.
“They used it for visits to manage their heart failure and diabetes. They used it to access cancer care. They used it to receive remote behavioral health care and therapy,” Jain said. “Finally, not only did they use it, they loved it.”
Having seen just how wrong his ideas about seniors were, Jain began to question where he might have other incorrect ideas about healthcare.
“What are some of the other stereotypes that are holding us back? What are the other preconceived notions that are limiting our thinking about the already possible in American healthcare delivery?” he said. “I believe that we have many limitations and stereotypes embedded in our view of how healthcare is organized, structured and delivered. And in this way, we’ve all collectively limited our perspective on the future and the already possible.”
He questioned if hospitals need to be physical buildings, or if they can become models of scale to bring into a patient’s home. He asked if all healthcare needed to be consumed locally, or if a national marketplace could be created. He wondered if care could be delivered in a truly diverse manner to match up with the population it serves.
“2020 is a year that is forcing us to reexamine our assumptions about every aspect of U.S. society,” Jain said. “Take a giant step back and ask yourself: What are the stereotypes you hold that may be outdated or simply wrong?”
Instead of viewing this as a challenge, Jain said he sees this as an opportunity to make lasting change.
“An opportunity to rethink who we are. An opportunity to rethink how we work. An opportunity to reimagine the future of American healthcare, unbound by our preconceived notions – many of which we are now learning to be false.”