By Tatiana Walk-Morris
As the Covid-19 pandemic persists across the United States, the crisis is straining hospital systems and the many doctors and essential workers who have been central to the response.
Amid the severity of the situation, healthcare facilities have begun to adapt, and the industry is learning some valuable lessons. Brian Sanderson, managing principal in healthcare services at the accounting, consulting and technology firm Crowe, walked through some of the critical takeaways that could lead the industry to emerge from the pandemic in a stronger position.
Much like other industries, such as banking or retail, healthcare has been adopting (or forced to adopt) new technologies. But the lag in embracing new tools has stemmed in part from challenges with reimbursement for these protocols, Sanderson explains. Now that some digital solutions, such as telehealth, are becoming more commonplace and fairly reimbursed by payers, the industry can move faster.
“The adoption of telehealth services will shift healthcare organizations’ focus from the location of their physical facilities and a primary service area mentality,” Sanderson says. “With telemedicine, healthcare providers can reach patients beyond brick-and-mortar hospitals and clinics—a capability that healthcare executives say can change their business models,” he says.
Pointing to the multibillion-dollar private equity investments in healthcare technology, Sanderson says healthcare organizations must get involved with the emerging digital healthcare market.
“You don’t have to own it all. You just need to connect,” Sanderson says. “Health systems are in the tremendous position—at the core of all things—to change and retain their importance in the chain rather than just be the place that people go for inpatient care.”
However, healthcare organizations should keep in mind that jumping into digital health services could leave elderly, less technology-savvy patients behind. “It remains to be seen which patients will use digital health offerings sooner than others,” Sanderson says, “although early indications show that millennial and Generation Y age groups have increased their adoption fastest.”
The Benefits Of Automation
On the operations side, healthcare organizations have developed a significant appetite for automation technologies that will allow them to adjust their cost curve to account for less volume, Sanderson explains. Adopting automation also can enable healthcare facilities to reduce their menial labor and administrative expense structure. “Now that hospitals have to look for ways to improve their efficiency and efficacy, the adoption of automation has moved into hyperdrive,” he adds.
According to Sanderson, many healthcare organizations are eyeing three forms of automation right now:
- Robotic process automation (RPA). RPA has been in the news for some time, but it has been far more complex to implement than was previously realized. RPA can streamline processes such as scheduling, claims and billing.
- Embedded automation. These tools are often within healthcare organizations’ possession, but many organizations do not know of their existence or how to optimize them. Embedded automation tools can help patients monitor themselves with wearable devices.
- Automation as a Service (AaaS). To Sanderson, this form of automation is ripe with opportunity, because these tools enable organizations to collect data centrally, process and execute workload (such as decisions) and use broader data sets (including from other organizations) to complement the accuracy. This technology could, for example, help gather data from patients’ wearables so physicians are automatically notified about patients without having to check in on them repeatedly.
For many hospitals, the pandemic has catalyzed a rethinking about operations and how to use the underlying technological infrastructure that they had in place all along. “This rethinking has allowed them to better serve patients ‘where they’re at’ and to prepare for the disruptions,” Sanderson says.
Thriving In The New Normal
From what Sanderson has seen, health systems have fallen into one of two categories: surviving or thriving. “The healthcare organizations focused on surviving want to return to traditional norms and see telehealth technologies as a bridge to returning to ‘normal.’ The health systems focused on thriving are doubling down on technology to separate themselves from disruptors as well as seeking ways to improve the cost structure of their operations,” he says.
“Additionally, one of the key takeaways that health system executives have learned from the pandemic is how to coordinate their responses to future crises,” according to Sanderson. “For example, as an industry, we are now better able to organize a mass vaccine distribution, given how we’ve had to creatively respond to Covid-19 patients and testing.”
As part of their response to this pandemic, health system executives are reevaluating their technological, clinical and financial operations to make sure they’re running an efficient enterprise, given lower patient volumes and recent financial distress. “As one CFO told me,” says Sanderson, “’We aren’t going anywhere, but we might look very different very soon.” Want to learn more about how to achieve business resilience? Find the latest insights from Crowe on how to prepare your people, partners and processes to support your company throughout today’s needs and tomorrow’s evolving landscape.