By Julie Campbell, Director, Innovation Consulting and Tony Mango, Associate, Innovation Consulting
As innovators in this industry, we think a lot about the future of healthcare – how the healthcare of today will transform tomorrow. We even attempt to make predictions, like how healthcare would change because of the COVID-19 pandemic (read about our predictions here). At HIMSS21 the week before last, it was long overdue to see each other in person and to talk about how exhausting, but also exhilarating, the last 18 months have been. In terms of accelerating digital transformation, there is no question that COVID-19 propelled us forward, and we are starting to experience daily innovations in a previously stagnant industry. At our first conference back since the pandemic started, we noticed many of the themes from HIMSS21 supported this notion.
The past year of health tech funding is proving that investment in digital transformation is moving the innovation needle and starting to pay. The pandemic has ushered forth adoption of many exciting innovations from healthcare stakeholders, such as health systems and payors embracing telehealth, pharmaceutical companies deploying rapid mRNA vaccine development, and technology vendors developing AI-assisted triage and chatbot solutions. AI/ML algorithms are increasingly being used in areas such as 1) supply chain optimization, a significant component of the trillion dollars of waste that can be addressed by engaging physicians on preferential supplies, 2) infectious disease and public health emergency testing, and 3) building predictive models to bolster social determinants of health screening to better connect patients with resources in the community, such as the platform being built at Rush Medical Center.
Common themes from conversations and keynotes were around necessary success in areas that have long been a focus of digital transformation, like improving access to care, through long-term telehealth adoption (among other ways) and investment in behavioral and mental health. Health system executives discussed that telehealth adoption has been positive for most stakeholders, some expecting sustained levels to be between 20-30% of total visits. Regulatory reform is critical to maintain this momentum, so news like the $19 million to expand telehealth is crucial.
Behavioral health has seen the greatest initial and sustained adoption of telehealth, and that has come at a critical time. The overwhelming burnout, loneliness, and stress that patients and caregivers are experiencing are being addressed through telehealth, as well as innovative technologies, policies, and spokespeople (shoutout to Simone Biles). Rainn Wilson delivered a keynote In the face of burnout, empathy, compassion, and gratitude are critical, moving the audience through comments such as “the health impacts of loneliness are akin to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, and research suggests our generation is the most isolated in history.” Frank Cutitta spoke of the loneliness he experienced in his 100-day long hospital stay with COVID-19, only experiencing transactional interactions with similarly lonely nurses and physicians. Callie Patel, Director at Healthbox, and Caroline Coy, Strategy Manager at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, described methods in which they crowdsourced employee ideas that would help reduce workforce burnout and administrative burden.
HIMSS21 was full of great examples of advancing healthcare. Thinking about the bigger picture, though, are the phrases ‘the future of healthcare’ and ‘healthcare of the future’ synonymous? Does ‘healthcare of the future’ bring any different images, feelings, or notions forward for you? For me, this phrase elicits thoughts about disruptive business and care delivery models, leadership methodologies and priorities, and technology that is barely in existence. Yet, HIMSS21 highlighted these themes, bringing them closer to reality, closer to the future of our health and care systems, in various ways through health equity, women in leadership, space health, and price transparency.
To be truly transformational, we must completely uproot the way that we think about, evaluate, and deliver healthcare. Health equity, which many companies seek to address but often has little staying power, must be driven by technology and is now at the forefront for health powerhouses such as Google and Kaiser Permanente. We need to tackle healthcare’s female leadership problem, where women make 80% of all healthcare buying decisions but are absent from healthcare companies’ C-Suites, despite female CEOs and CFOs having better performing stock prices than market average. There were exciting sessions talking about how we will expand telehealth use beyond rural care when we take it to space so that we can perform remote care and assisted surgeries. Space health innovation is addressing the health risks and challenges of space exploration.
At the close of a conference 18 months in the making, one thing was clear: healthcare is an investment. As HIMSS CEO Hal Wolf stated in the opening keynote, “If you think for one moment healthcare is not an investment, look at what’s happened to economies around the world when we’ve been unable to respond quickly to a pandemic due to a lack of actionable information.” Consider Gitanjali Rao’s comment, “One person cannot make a difference alone. You need to create a movement of innovators looking to solve problems. All of us can and do solve problems around us once we’re motivated.” We’re all in this together, and we must continue to fight to improve healthcare for all.