Hospital innovation in the 'new normal': 3 accelerated trends

The COVID-19 pandemic forced health systems to reevaluate care delivery, including a transition to virtual care and accelerating their operational and digital transformation journeys. Now, innovation leaders are seizing the momentum for rapid change and scaling these capabilities to provide seamless experiences, increase access, and attract new patients.

Broomfield, Colo.-based SCL Health Chief Innovation Officer Peter Kung has been working with the system to develop a frictionless and seamless experience for patients, while driving the cost of care down, to ultimately differentiate the organization from others. He outlines three accelerated trends for healthcare innovation leaders today and what is needed to lead in the ‘new normal.’

3 Accelerated Trends

1. Alignment of incentives. “During this crisis, although it might create some new trends, it has more concretely accelerated changes that were already in motion - three in particular are alignment of incentives, increasing market competition, and the wave of consumerism” says Mr. Kung. "The movement from fee-for-service to value-based care was gaining traction before the pandemic, but I expect that now we will see that expedited, given the appetite for new payment models and the possible lessening in FFS payments." said Mr. Kung. In response, "we will also need to find ways to operationally accelerate lowering the cost of care while delivering exceptional quality and results.” One way SCL Health is responding is creating a System Command Center to clinically and operationally transform the health system to efficiently and effectively deliver care, while also improving access and quality standards.

“A System Command Center co-locates various functions, services and teams in one physical-location complemented by a real-time decision support tool and a multitude of digital technologies. It allows for the optimal delivery of patient care, monitors operational/clinical performance, and creates an integrated and transparent culture across all the hospitals within the health system” says Mr. Kung.

During these past few months, the concept of a Command Center and its management model for teams to make effective, efficient, and impactful decisions are being realized and valued. "During the pandemic, most health systems operated in a command center modality to respond to COVID-19," he said. "We have teams working shoulder-to-shoulder in the same room and are making decisions all together and accomplishing large feats swiftly and efficiently. Health systems are realizing this model improves access, network and service line integrity, surge management, capacity and demand matching, and patient safety and quality.”

2. Market competition. The rate of innovation accelerated during the pandemic has changed the playing field for what can differentiate hospitals in the market. The acceleration of competition comes from a multitude of parties including health systems, payers, and new market entrants. Virtual health is a great example with all health systems experiencing a massive boom in capabilities during the pandemic. “If you take the virtual health capabilities of what we have today and transport them back to three years ago – it would be differentiating. I am not so sure that is the case now as it will be a table-stake offering moving forward. Telehealth is now being offered by any organization that is associated with the delivery of clinical services" said Mr. Kung.

At the same time, big tech companies are also seeking to continue disrupt and shape the healthcare space. Mr. Kung sees the big tech companies as partners in bringing impactful changes throughout the care continuum including the in-person setting to the virtual or the at-home space. "If they want to put their time and effort into making healthcare delivery better, let's have them at the table," he said. "But if the tech companies think they have to swoop in to ‘save us’; that also isn't the most helpful attitude. We have a lot of smart, dedicated, and talented people trying to transform healthcare, and we want them (big tech) to partner with us to fix problems and deliver better modalities that improve health outcomes."

Given the pace of change and the increased market competition, "the opportunity that we have in healthcare right now is that before COVID-19, decisions took months (sometimes years) to make; now we have figured out a rapid decision-making process and we want that to become part of the new normal."

3. Consumerism. During the pandemic, the national expectation for healthcare availability changed virtually overnight. People needed to connect with healthcare providers without leaving their homes, and what Mr. Kung describes as the new "Digital Front Door" has now become essential. Having a patient portal through the electronic health record (EHR) that allows patients to view their medical records and connect with physicians is no longer enough; hospitals must create a digital front door that can differentiate and deliver unique value propositions to the customer.

"Take and leverage the great things about your EHR and extend that to a higher layer – where you can create, combine non-EHR features, and drive the unique experiences you want your patients to have" he said. "For example, companies like Amazon and Walmart both have apps where you can buy many of the same products, including common shopping capabilities such as the 'shopping cart, check out, taking a credit card and delivery options.’ The difference is that Amazon is combining distinct and ‘table stake’ features in a way of delivering a unique value proposition: making the online experience 10 times better than the in-store experience."

Consumer expectations are shaping the 'new normal' and SCL Health is carving an initiative that continues to stay ahead of others and remain market differentiating. “One of the ways we are doing that is our focus on building the Digital Front Door with a world-leading partner, which will give patients a one-stop-shop and frictionless experience as they receive services from us" says Mr. Kung.

Mr. Kung suggests hospitals need to take their often-times siloed capabilities, combine them into a Digital Front Door to drive their organization’s unique value proposition in the communities they serve. The highest-valued providers will make it easy, delightful, and frictionless to receive clinical and complete non-clinical services. "The experience should never devolve into mere clicks and transactions, and it should never make things easier for the healthcare system if it becomes more difficult for the consumer," said Mr. Kung. "Having a true north star, a clear value proposition, will help us get more in-tune with how we are doing to deliver value."

More articles on healthcare innovation:
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