Geisinger's chief innovation officer on why healthcare shouldn't go back to normal

This morning at HIMSS' Accelerate Health series Dr. Karen Murphy discussed how the health system can apply lessons learned last year about flexibility, digitalization and payment reform to the future.
By Laura Lovett
02:53 pm
Geisinger Health system

Photo by Lisa Lake/Getty Images for Geisinger Health System

With the COVID-19 vaccine distribution efforts beginning to roll out across the country, it’s inevitable there will be yet another shift in healthcare. However, Dr. Karen Murphy, Geisinger executive vice president and chief innovation officer, cautions against reverting to pre-pandemic norms.

“When we think getting back to normal, do we really want to go back to the healthcare delivery system that we had last February? I think not. I think we’ve grown, through our pain and suffering and hard work, which has really been hard for everybody, both personally and professionally,” Murphy said at HIMSS’ Accelerate Health Series today.

“I think we can see some silver linings in what we have just experienced, and I think we should see a new normal, as opposed to getting back to the way we were.”

While the changes the healthcare system went through over the last year were vast, four of the top lessons Murphy urges the industry to learn are: flexibility, boosting digital tools, using more data and reforming the healthcare payment models.

During the pandemic, healthcare systems were forced to change very quickly and were able to successfully implement new programs very quickly. This increased flexibility should be incorporated in healthcare in the future, according to Murphy.

“When we think about what we did in the healthcare delivery system, we brought it to its knees in a period of hours, not days, not weeks. Before, when we looked at a period of innovation, we looked at plans that went out for weeks and years.

"Now we know we have the capability of being much more nimble than we were before, and we have to grab onto those silver linings so we transform into a better, stronger, higher-quality, much more satisfying for healthcare workers – a system that is going to develop that is going to take the silver lining of a very difficult time and turn [it] into positive change.”

Part of that flexibility was coming up with new care modalities. In particular, 2020 propelled digital health innovations.

“You also have to think about the care models that worked so wonderfully in the pandemic. We went into patient’s home,” Murphy said. “We cared for them in their homes. They didn’t have to come to the hospital. We offered them virtual visits. We monitored patients with chronic disease and [COVID-19], in their home.

"That was much more effective than bringing them into hospital. I think we found that patients were very, very receptive, and the strategies we’ve used can be carried on to the new normal. I think that will lead to a higher degree of satisfaction for patients and employees, and a higher control of chronic diseases as we move forward.”

Moreover, part of those digital efforts also included incorporating more data into care. Murphy said that health systems began to pull data from more locations including ICU beds.

“I think we have to continue that,” she said. “That all of our decisions are made by looking at informed data. That really worked very well for us during the pandemic.”

Lastly, Murphy urged that there be more payment reform in the future. Over the last year, we saw health system negatively impacted by the financial implications of the pandemic.

“We have to commit ourselves to payment reform. What we saw during the pandemic was that healthcare delivery systems and providers reacted in the right manner they did what was right to protect patients,” she said.

Specifically, she noted that healthcare systems lightened staff in other locations to take care of COVID-19 patients, canceled elective surgeries and closed clinics to divert the workforce to the places where it was most needed.

“And what happened? On a fee for service system we had really financial devastation across the industry,” she said.

“We have to be advocates to change payment to be more quality based, more value based as we move forward. We have to look at things like population-based payment – global budgets that will allow us in the healthcare system to deliver a higher level of quality. It will allow us to do the right thing at the right time for our patients.”





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