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When the COVID-19 pandemic started, Healthbox made some predictions about how healthcare would change as a result of those unprecedented times. Now that we are beyond the initial wave of uncertainty, we thought it would be a good time to revisit those predictions and make a few new ones, with emphasis on health systems in particular.

  1. Consolidation will be be accelerated
    A number of mergers were abandoned (Sentara and Cone Health, Advocate Aurora Health and Beaumont, etc.), but we believe this one is too early to call with some very large mergers still upcoming. Health system merger and acquisition (M&A) activity in 2020 was similar to the previous ten years and we still believe more consolidations are coming as more health systems return to financial health. Nearly half of health system CFOs said the pandemic will increase partnerships, and we agree.
  2. Agility will no longer be a “nice to have”
    We were right, but we could have further explored what agility would mean for organizations, employees, and consumers. EVERYONE had to become (more) agile, learn and apply, and revise their processes, beliefs, and more. Innovation managers left promising projects to assist with testing, join analytics teams, source PPE, and convince patients to return for elective surgeries. Often, caregivers found themselves working across new or more functional areas and with greater urgency than ever before.
  3. Telemedicine super usage will tip a long line of dominos
    Fans of Churchill’s quote were rewarded and the crisis wasn’t wasted. Telehealth was everywhere at first and doesn’t look like it will drop down to pre-pandemic levels. Virtual-first primary care and behavioral health have gone mainstream across many patient types. Reimbursement is following and *hopefully* here to stay. So are the problems of rapid, unplanned tech adoption (I’ll come back to this).
  4. The shift to value-based care will hit a speed bump
    This was a difficult one to predict. While there was a temporary pause, much like the stock market, the march to value bounced back quickly. Both private equity and the federal government are moving quickly, with goals of 100% value based care (VBC) in Medicare and Medicare Advantage by 2025. COVID-19 only emphasized providers’ need to diversify by augmenting fee-for-service income with VBC revenue streams.
  5. Emerging care/coverage models will see significant growth
    In addition to the example we mentioned above, we saw hospital-at-home models gain share, in large part thanks to the March 2020 Hospitals without Walls and November 2020 Acute Hospital Care at Home Program. The inevitable intro of Amazon Care and Walmart’s continued large-scale experiments that feel more like tweaks to an established strategy are just more examples of emerging care models.

One significant trend that we didn’t call out previously was the rise of bad actors. Healthcare fraud, ransomware attacks, and even unemployment fraud are all sharply rising. While not always dominating the headlines, these are taking attention and money that could go elsewhere.

So what does this all mean, and what’s next?  

For health systems in the US, we envision the following happening now and in the near term:

Health system leaders are seeking to even more rapidly adopt new tech capabilities.

Many will need help curating portfolios of digital solutions to enable consumer-centric care experiences, support their healthcare workforce, and drive operational efficiency. The typical procurement processes and expertise don’t quite fit with younger companies that are addressing these needs.

As with mergers and other partnerships, health system leaders are looking to commercialize assets to increase revenue and mitigate risk.

Those projects, product concepts, and potential patents are more likely to be put to work these days, and the routine M&A activity now includes resurgent interest in unique partnerships.

Health systems with innovation departments will continue to pivot.

Our clients did everything from designing testing centers, running command centers, to pinch hitting for any department that needed them, and many saw their forward-looking projects and products take on significant roles in pandemic response. We already see innovation departments gearing up with new strategies and elevated positions within health systems. We expect health system innovation departments to both execute and lead strategies moving forward.

Bad actors will continue their evil ways.

Health systems could (and should) start sharing success stories of how they’ve recovered from hacks and attacks, even personalizing them in the same ways they highlight hip replacement patients getting back to golf and grandkids. There are more challenges coming and we at HIMSS and Healthbox are here to help you navigate them.

Revising or creating new digital health transformation strategies.

Many organizations are adopting digital-first strategies in telehealth, work-from-home, and care-in-the-home models, and this is forcing application rationalization and the recognition that so much change often demands a new approach. There was a quick and vast proliferation of new technology, often implemented in siloed or inefficient manners, but these systems need to be strategically optimized for sustainability.  In response to this need, Healthbox has expanded our strategy and execution services in Innovation and Digital Transformation

For more information on our consulting services visit healthbox.com.

Pandemic Predictions Revisited

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