For decades, investors, startups and a broad host of established players have viewed healthcare as ripe for innovation. However, the industry has been challenged by the momentum of the status quo – the scale, complexity, volume and ingrained practices that all need to change to wring out some much-needed efficiency.
As we were taught in physics class, the more momentum something has, the more difficult it is to change.
Specifically, organizations have been hesitant to invest in something new if they don’t believe consumers or partners are ready to adopt it. While consumers are slow to embrace something new if organizations haven’t made it widely available. Which force – the organization or the consumer – moves first to drive change?
For many organizations, the rapid onset of lockdowns and stay-at-home orders in response to COVID-19 mobilized consumers and forced hospitals, health systems and other healthcare providers to fast-track plans for digital transformation.
Faced with increasing disruptions to operations, business resiliency plans that originally allocated 18 months to enable employees to work remotely were implemented in 18 days.
Virtual meetings soon became the only way to meet, and speed became a necessity to accelerate the shift from manual transactions to digital payments. Many employers were forced to quickly change the way they operate, forcing investment and adoption of new business strategies in a very short period of time.
The pandemic galvanized the modernization shift in healthcare as well – perhaps to an even greater degree than other sectors. The clearest example here is the rapid adoption of telehealth, which grew exponentially from the beginning of this year, including remote primary care appointments, therapy sessions and retail clinic consultations.
Organizations quickly sought ways to deepen EHR integration to seamlessly share patient healthcare data across different electronic systems. With the sudden shift to digital systems, organizations have accelerated long-term strategies, and patients have come to expect innovations such as contactless payments and the ability to store a payment method on file.
Now, nearly a year after the first reported cases of COVID-19 globally, what strategies can healthcare organization and leverage from pandemic-accelerated trends and shifting consumer behaviors to sustain a digital way of life?
Here are three big ideas to keep in mind:
1. Embrace digital patient engagement
Shifting consumer behaviors and evolving expectations driven by the pandemic are requiring healthcare businesses to prioritize customer-centric solutions designed to improve the patient experience. Do you have a digital patient engagement strategy in place? If so, has it been adapted to help meet the patient where they are in the COVID-19 environment?
Consider this innovation: Create a digital front door across all points of patient engagement. A digital front door provides easy access points, including online self-scheduling, and mobile pre-registration and check-in, as well as electronic payments and consumer settings for automated reminders for follow-up appointments.
2. Expand touchless and reduced-touch efforts
Public health guidelines recommend frequent disinfection of high-touch surfaces. Does your organization have a touchless engagement strategy that helps limit direct touch to shared devices and other physical surroundings for patients and employees?
Touchless strategies can also extend beyond physical surfaces. Take inventory on how many solutions and vendors you have tied to financial transactions. Patient data already has many starts and stops based on the claim cycle. Too many interruptions in a financial transaction may expose health systems to timing issues around settlement, ownership and reconciliation.
Your financial transactions are only as safe as the weakest link along the payment chain. Reducing the number of vendors – or “touchpoints” – may result in fewer certifications and contracts, and ultimately lead to cost savings.
Consider this innovation: Expand existing or create new omni-channel offerings with contactless payment options for patients, such as allowing consumers to store payment methods on file, check-ins for appointments or digital insurance claim submissions.
3. Focus more on cybersecurity
As healthcare businesses increasingly go digital, it's imperative that providers continue to safeguard critical business and patient data.
COVID-19 has driven cybercriminals to escalate ransomware attacks against payers, providers and patients this year, and the trend is expected to continue. In a joint announcement with the FBI and Health and Human Services this fall, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency issued a joint advisory says they have “credible information of an increased and imminent cybercrime threat to U.S. hospitals and healthcare providers.”
The need for stronger controls and security measures to help protect computer networks from a disruption of healthcare services and to protect sensitive Protected Health Information remains critically important. In addition, patients now have a heightened expectation that health systems are keeping their data secure.
Consider this innovation: Cybersecurity platforms that employ artificial intelligence, machine learning and predictive analytics may help healthcare providers add additional security controls to protect critical data and secure payments. When implemented correctly, these technologies may help mitigate risks to the network.
Looking beyond the pandemic
Despite the challenges presented by COVID-19, organizations with the ability to adapt to new digital solutions and technology in innovative ways will continue to outpace competitors and remain positioned to support additional growth.
Previous processes that took a year or more to enable technological advancement won’t be acceptable – or sustainable – in a post-pandemic healthcare industry for consumers.
Embracing these learnings can position market leaders for continued above-normal performance. Inventory and supplier diversification, for example, will likely continue to help ensure health organizations keep enough personal protective equipment to keep on hand and review supply chains for critical supplies and avoid potential disruptions
Organizations may find it hard to continue investing in digital innovation with competing priorities in 2021, but we should all be careful not to default back to previous processes. Instead, by focusing on the development of a consumer-centric healthcare landscape, organizations can evolve the patient experience to meet the changing needs in an increasingly digital world.
Stuart Hanson leads the Corporate Treasury Consulting and Healthcare Solutioning groups for J.P. Morgan. He previously led healthcare payments for the Corporate & Investment Banking business at J.P. Morgan, and has held other positions focused on healthcare payments throughout his career. He holds an M.B.A. in Finance from the University of Chicago, Booth School of Business, and a bachelor’s degree in Finance from the University of Illinois.
Editor's Note: Hanson has previously chaired Task Forces for HIMSS, MobiHealthNews' parent company. He reports no relevant financial disclosures.