In a previous post, I wrote about five major themes of digital health trends for 2021. In this article, I want to focus on the specific implications for hospitals and integrated delivery networks.
Building out the 21 predictions I’m offering for digital health in 2021, here are predictions six through 10:
6. Business Model Disruption (Finally)
For the last decade, I have seen the rise and fall of minor players in healthcare. Take for example the highly touted Amazon/JP Morgan/Berkshire company, Haven. After three years, Haven is folding, largely because the three owners could not agree on a consistent approach.
How could an organization funded by three leading companies – with world-class talent and a stated mission to change the world, no less – fail?
Change in healthcare is hard. While Haven was meant to address the sticky web of the hospital, insurers, and pharma relationships, the real innovation must come from existent players who have a stake in that web and are already on the field.
MY PREDICTION: Leaders from the Provider community will work with the new Federal Administration to develop a “third way” to improve quality and manage costs that is reliant neither fully on the private insurance market nor on governmental backing. This will allow for more mobility of patients, increased patient choice, and new requirements around service expectations to meet cost management objectives.
7. Care Disparity Addressed
As care becomes unevenly distributed thanks to mega-mergers, healthcare quality gaps will become more evident in communities that are underserved, in both urban and rural areas.
Social determinants of health have been long identified. In March of 2020, before the COVID-pandemic hit, the Kaiser Family Foundation released an issue brief on disparities in health care. These disparities have been more evident given the confluence of the COVID pandemic, the economic impact of COVID, and the disproportional impact on lower-income communities.
As health policy intersects with racial equity policy, there is the additional dimension of increased awareness in the disparity of treatment amongst communities of color.
MY PREDICTION: I predict this disparity of care will become enough of an obvious issue that health systems will consider it a stakeholder value issue for the communities they serve and invest in delivery improvements like telehealth for missional reasons. This will accelerate outreach programs targeted to communities of color, many of whom require additional engagement on vaccination, for example.
8. Traditional Media Concludes
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Linear television – the kind of TV you watch at a specific time it is programmed to air (the kind I grew up on) – has hemorrhaged viewers this year. Globally, linear TV spending is down $29.9B in 2020. Newspaper advertising is down $9.8B while radio took a $5.9B hit.
This dramatic shift was a result of COVID-19 for sure but accelerated existing trends. Traditional media has been on a decline; the drop in viewers and eyeballs this year was unprecedented. Still, many hospitals and health systems devoted a large portion of marketing budgets to traditional media as a matter of, well, tradition.
But every healthcare system has undergone a radical reassessment of spending priorities. And the best organizations have developed models of patient acquisition. When patients come back, it’s going to be thanks to well-orchestrated journeys, rather than billboards.
MY PREDICTION: Hospitals will defund traditional media outlets due to a mix of budget pressures and experience with demand-generation activities, moving away from brand as the primary target for marketing spend.
9. Rise of the Experience
The change from outbound, PR-driven marketing to intelligent, scale-driven digital requires a new approach. The patient journey will be re-understood as unfolding over time, technology, and channels.
This new understanding will result in the increase of new positions such as Chief Experience Officers, putting the experiential needs of the patient in the C-suite.
When social determinants of care become clinically relevant, the duration of “being a patient” changes. Health systems will begin to engage with the experience outside of the physical facility, outside the duration of episodic care, and outside of the current fee-for-service model.
This will require a new approach to understanding the value and impact of the care delivered, which will be based on measurable, defensible improvements in care. The patient experience will be seen as critical to healthcare outcomes and, thus, will become an area of measurable, repeatable improvement.
MY PREDICTION: As a market’s edges change, thanks to new entrants as well as new territories, health systems will need to compete on the experience – Was it easy? Did I get what I needed? – rather than proximity, and the digital experience will be paramount.
10. Connected Health
The final theme is one of connectedness. The management of new information, apps, modes of care, etc. poses an opportunity to reconcile the best of each to give a fuller picture of patients’ health.
With new payment models, the connectedness of health will be valued. The reduction of cost and complications will be realized through better information flow. With health systems and their communities leveraging new modes of communication due to COVID, we will keep the best, most relevant solutions long after COVID is thankfully behind us.
This will require a clear understanding of how different systems will interact and the rules of engagement to follow. In the end, successful systems will weave together a blanket of support for patients that will gain in value as more assets and tools are added.
MY PREDICTION: Every health system will need a virtual health portfolio where tools are rationalized and understood not as additional point solutions, but within the context of interoperability to deliver better care.
These predictions for hospitals and health systems are in light of the five themes I see for 2021:
- Telehealth as a competitive advantage
- New insurance markets
- More self-service digital triage tools
- Mega-mergers of vertically integrated health delivery models, and
- Multi-dimensional, socially-driven contact tracing
In PART THREE, I turn to five specific 2021 digital health predictions for Health Plans that fit into these macro trends as well.