In early 2020, healthcare leaders from payers to providers to technology services providers found themselves at a crossroads—innovate or fail to care for patients. I had the privilege recently of joining a virtual roundtable with a group of healthcare leaders to talk about the transformation of patient care, engagement and outreach. The panel focused on the global crisis of the pandemic giving rise to an era of innovation and technological solutions and services that enabled new models of care. The pandemic changed ideas and helped create new solutions to improve how and where patients access care whether it be through a smartphone-based transportation app with healthy meal delivery or remote patient monitoring.
Virtual care revisited
The industry quickly realized remote care opportunities helped support continuity of care. McKinsey estimated that up to $250 billion of U.S. healthcare spending could be shifted to virtual or virtually-enabled care but would require sustained consumer and clinician adoption and accelerated re-design of care coordination. Doing so improved the patient experience, helped alleviate social health factors and enhanced consumer perception of healthcare delivery.
At the same time, the rapid onset of the pandemic also quickly shed light on the dire needs of the underserved. Many people were trying to keep their homes and jobs, and health was likely the last thing on their minds, often due in part to socioeconomic factors.
The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that nearly one in five adults delayed care due to social determinants of health (SDoH) factors during the pandemic. While SDoH were a health industry focus before the pandemic, Covid-19 exacerbated these challenges among many groups and brought them to light in a direct way.
When patients could not get the care they needed, providers found new and innovative ways to reach them at home through telehealth and remote care, but the connectivity and technology still posed a challenge for many patient populations.
Patients needed better, more consistent access to care and technology. In fact, in measuring telehealth trends, a CDC report found that some geographic regions of the country were not as quick to adopt remote care due to access to needed technology.
One leader on our panel noted that while telemedicine adoption increased more than 8,000% at his organization, doctors spent most of their time talking patients through how the technology worked, rather than treating patients. While technology is often portrayed as a great equalizer, the pandemic made clear that this isn’t always the case.
Nevertheless, by meeting patients where they are, payers and providers also can begin to address the glaring health disparities and inequity within the system by assisting those who don’t have the technology that supports better care, well-being and an improved healthcare experience.
Value-based care and the pandemic
Much of healthcare depends on the regulatory and payer environment today and in the future. While this landscape is always changing, the healthcare industry—payers and providers—continues to explore new ways of improving the healthcare experience.
Value-based care programs, for example, have been talked about for years. Nevertheless, as the National Alliance of Purchaser Coalition learned in a national survey, six in ten employers were considering value-based healthcare largely because of the pandemic. As the survey showed, the concept gained traction in pockets, but an across-the-board, holistic move from fee-for-service has yet to occur.
Even with significant innovation, this is a continued challenge. If patients (and our healthcare system) still demand virtual care, the industry will have to meet them where they are long after the pandemic and, importantly, find innovative ways to reimburse physicians for the activity.
Many of the panelists agreed that to sustain the innovation and change, we must find new ways to better operationalize SDoH while increasing incentives for providers to improve value versus volume, even with virtual care. This shift also dramatically impacts the flow of patient care, which affects healthcare quality measures.
Throughout the discussion, the organizations and leaders represented on the panel said they learned new and innovative ways to adapt and operationalize technology during the pandemic.
Technology for good
The panel discussed many newer and innovative technologies within care delivery like artificial intelligence (AI). Healthcare providers and payers can use AI to support predictive outcomes and improve member and patient engagement. As described in a recent report of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the pandemic provided a unique opportunity to prove that AI could be harnessed for the benefit of all humanity, and AI developers seized the moment. Even so, AI is just a piece of the healthcare puzzle rather than a panacea. AI, or any technology for that matter, is simply one way to drive toward a specific outcome.
Everyone on the panel agreed the pandemic accelerated a new evolution of innovation that, in the end, will enhance the factors that the healthcare industry is working to improve, such as addressing SDoH, point-of-care clinical insights and a better patient experience.
Together, we can build a system where people can get the care when, where and how they want it. The pandemic was an unlikely culprit to drive the innovation. But it’s up to us to harness the future of that continued innovation.
Photo credit: Andrii Shyp, Getty Images