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By Julie Campbell, Vice President

As we enter 2022, we are different people than we were in January 2020.  We have bruises, but we also have thicker skin. We have experienced failures, but we are now smarter because of it.  We are exhausted, but we are also invigorated by accelerated change. The entire healthcare ecosystem is in the midst of some of the most significant transformations of our lives, while health systems and consumers reel from rapidly changing environments. 

Healthbox – like most companies – has gone through a lot of changes in the last two years; however, we remain committed to empowering the reinvention of healthcare. At our core, Healthbox is an advisory services firm that enables healthcare organizations – providers, payers, and technology companies – to develop, adopt, or invest in the technologies that will drive innovation and digital transformation. In service of our goals to drive healthcare innovation and digital transformation, we have compiled a few recommendations and predictions amongst the shifting tides of 2022.

Health systems need to reinvest in internal innovation in three ways:

Reclaim forward-thinking innovation resources:

Digital transformation through the pandemic has accelerated, and with that, traditional health system-based innovation programs have changed.  Many of those resources – staff and funding – were directed to quickly activating innovative solutions in COVID testing, chat-based AI, telehealth, supply chain management, etc. Resources that were once predominantly looking for solutions for 3 – 5 years ahead were now tasked with enabling real-time, actionable transformation.  This was a critical and timely adjustment; however, we need to make sure that innovation programs continue to be forward-thinking by strategizing, finding, developing, and validating the next transformation opportunities.  

Build a culture of innovation for the care team:

The entire economy is experiencing the Great Resignation, but healthcare workers are especially struggling with burnout from the COVID-19 pandemic.  Investing in the care team is critical.  Internal innovation programs can drive an innovative culture by investing in the qualified and high value ideas and inventions that healthcare employees bring forward. Building a culture of innovation not only helps employees think differently about how to creatively solve problems, but it also makes them more receptive to adopting new innovations. 

Put your money where your mouth is:

Some of the more forward-thinking health systems are starting to expand their use of strategic venture funds to advance innovation and be at the forefront of what’s next. Advocate Aurora Enterprise launched this year and has been making some big bets.  Ascension Ventures also launched a new fund in March 2021 with $285M in capital, backed by 13 participating health systems. Even HHS launched its first venture capital partnership. These strategic venture funds are a way to stay abreast of innovative solutions and market trends, while increasing the organization’s stake in implementing those transformational technologies. 

Venture investment in digital transformation solutions will continue to grow but shift focus:

2021 was a record-breaking year with total investment around $29.1B which is 95% more than 2020 – but the focus will evolve.  Last year, there was a significant investment in the value of on-demand health (i.e., Dispatch Health, Pager, Maven) and mental health solutions (i.e., Spring Health, Meru Health, Pear Therapeutics).  While investment in these spaces will continue to grow, we expect these trends to be part of the driving forces next year:

Prepare for care at home capabilities to become a part of the new normal:

There is a convergence of trends that are leading to more and more care being delivered in the home: 1) COVID quickly drove people to seek remote care due to safety and hospital capacity concerns; 2) the Great Resignation is exacerbating an already serious clinician shortage, and 3) consumers are demanding more convenient ways to receive care, in line with consumerization trends in many industries.  Solutions that can address all three of these trends are primed for success.  Telehealth, digital therapeutics, and even hospital at home solutions are going to see more investment action and more clinical and consumer adoption very soon.

Find user-friendly solutions for consumers to consolidate care access:

The consumer/patient journey is much more complicated than purchasing items on Amazon or streaming a movie on Netflix, but similar digital strategies have taken shape in the form of a digital front door. For example, consider a consumer’s interaction along the following buckets: 1) searching, locating, and scheduling appropriate care, 2) pre-visit activities to facilitate efficient in-office experiences, 3) intravisit activities while the care is delivered, and 4) coordinated post-visit interactions to capture value, gather feedback, and effectively manage go-forward activities. Importantly, as the number of point solutions employed grows, so too does the relative importance of designing a singular, seamless experience for patients. In select markets, merger and build activity is catching up with point solution innovation to build holistic care management platforms across the digital front door continuum.

Use Artificial Intelligence (AI) for far more than we use it for today:

AI is a critical component to address quality care delivery, especially in a world with limited and decreasing clinician supply. Research shows that AI and automation technologies will free up nursing activities by 10% by 2030 to support unmet demand. Whether it’s used to find new links between genetic codes or to drive surgery-assisting robots, AI is reinventing — and reinvigorating — modern healthcare through machines that can predict, comprehend, learn, and act. Right now, AI is used primarily for low hanging fruit – repetitive and administrative tasks.  However, use cases will soon span preventative/wellness care, triage, diagnostics, clinical decision support, care delivery, chronic disease management, drug research and development, and more.

Don’t neglect Medicaid populations or eventually get left behind:

The silver tsunami and the transition to value-based care has made Medicare – and specifically Medicare Advantage – populations a prime target for innovation solutions. However, this has created a bit of white space for solutions that specifically address Medicaid populations. Solutions that provide quality care at lower cost will have an opportunity to succeed.  Solutions that are successfully addressing the needs of rural health communities, social determinants of health, or maternal and fetal healthcare will have the opportunity to demonstrate significant impact.

Bring on 2022

 A lot has changed in the past two years, but Healthbox’s commitment to drive healthcare innovation and digital transformation has remained constant. Over the next year, companies must commit to organizational transformation and innovation, or risk being left in the past. Focus on consumer and care team needs will be pivotal for healthcare companies in 2022.

Prepare for Healthcare Innovation and Digital Transformation in 2022

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