August 2, 2021
COVID has had a huge impact on healthcare, and will continue to for years to come. Some of the changes, like the ability to muster a massive response to a rapid influx of patients, are obvious, but others are more subtle and unexpected. From my perspective, working primarily with technology companies seeking to help health systems, health plans and other stakeholders innovate and evolve, I have seen some very interesting changes in where healthcare decision-makers are shifting their attention and investing their money and resources.
Of course the pandemic drew resources away from innovation projects as the industry went all-hands-on-deck scrambling to meet the demand for care and vaccines, while simultaneously trying to keep up with necessary non-COVID care as well as possible. Interestingly, many temporarily sidelined technology initiatives have quickly been reengaged, often with even greater urgency and commitment. Telemedicine and virtual care saw rapid growth during the height of the pandemic, and while the spikes in utilization of those services have subsided somewhat, their adoption curves still seem to be on much steeper trajectories than they were pre-pandemic.
Somehow the pandemic experience seems to have made the healthcare industry feel the importance and urgency of tech innovation very keenly, and organizations are kicking off and re-engaging initiatives across their organizations. We are seeing growing interest in a wide range of technology areas, from interoperability to consumerism, revenue cycle, data analytics and clinical decision support. In all of these areas and more, healthcare institutions are looking for ways to use technology to deliver better care with fewer resources. This seems to be one of the big lessons of COVID: that we have to do better, be more flexible, be more prepared for the unexpected, give our patients and members a better experience, and we need to do it in much less labor-intensive ways.
If we are being honest, we have to admit that hospitals and health insurers have historically operated more like the DMV than Amazon or Google. Bureaucracy, glacial processes, arcane systems of rules and policies and doggedly defended fiefdoms have left the industry in a place where it cannot give consumers the kind of experiences they want and expect, and it cannot leverage the power of its own data and available tech to improve care the way it wants to.
COVID brought home the reality and magnitude of these challenges as organizations tried to leverage technology to respond to the pandemic and deliver needed care. We couldn’t figure out if we had the right supplies and equipment, where the hotspots would be or how to allocate for and support community vaccine distribution. Patients fell through the cracks, and everyone knew we could and should do much better.
Sure we have proven the effectiveness of mRNA vaccines and we have learned a ton about the new public health policy and communications in the internet/mobile phone/social media era, but the real change, I think, is in the way we are pursuing digital innovation much more aggressively. This is an industry that has always embraced the latest clinical tech, but dragged its feet on every digital initiative. Now this seems to be changing. Let’s hope it is and that we can all be a positive part of that change.