Providence's Aaron Martin: 3 digital health trends that should be on hospital leaders' radars

In April, Providence Executive Vice President and Chief Digital and Innovation Officer Aaron Martin led his team to develop a new digital insight report series to help hospitals and health systems across the U.S. navigate COVID-19 recovery.

Mr. Martin worked alongside Sara Vaezy, the Renton, Wash.-based health system's chief digital strategy and business development officer, and Providence's digital strategy team to launch the COVID-19 Digital Insight Report Series. The report collection is based on research and insights gathered from more than 100 interviews with health system, technology and innovation leaders from Providence, public payers and other health systems.  

"We wanted to create at least a kind of stake-in-the-ground situational understanding of how COVID-19 is going to impact the industry. And then how that impact is going to roll through and catalyze different parts of the industry and where it's going to create digital opportunities, based on its impact on the business models, supply chains, etc.," Mr. Martin told Becker's Hospital Review.

Providence made the report series public to share their insights with other health systems but also to draw outside feedback. While Mr. Martin's digital team focuses on understanding where the digital opportunities are in today's market, he said he hopes that with the insight report series they will start a dialogue with outside stakeholders to help reveal insights Providence may have missed. 

Here, Mr. Martin shares the top three digital trends hospital leaders must be aware of in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

1. Market will divide into a very consumer-driven market and a very risk-contracting market.

"The top trend I would say is that all the trends we were having pre-COVID-19 are accelerating rapidly. And what's really important to understand is what is going to cause that. From a provider/integrated delivery network lens, the biggest trend we believe will be this bifurcation of the market where health systems and IDNs are going to have to accelerate getting into risk because COVID-19 showed us in stark relief that the fee-for-service model is broken."

2. Consumer side will see acceleration of three types of technologies: demand aggregation, transaction/navigation and engagement.

"Health systems and IDNs are going to have to become very consumer friendly in their digital footprint. They're going to have some very aggressive competitors move into the space, and COVID-19 has accelerated that. If you talked to me about a year and a half ago, I was going door to door to these health systems and saying 'we don't have a whole lot of time to get our act together from a digital consumer standpoint because big tech companies and great, smaller tech companies are coming in and they're going to be offering really compelling digital experiences for your commercial patient population, which is what funds your entire business. So if you don't do a great job, somebody else will.' Those very economically valuable customers are going to move to things they're familiar with such as simple self-service, online scheduling and telehealth. Now, because of COVID-19, everybody got kind of forced to sample what it's like to receive care online, and many of these patients, especially commercial patients, enjoyed it. They said it's far more convenient. COVID-19 put a massive amount of IDNs' patient populations online, and now these disruptors, who are clearly providing better digital experiences, are going to take advantage of that. So that's on the consumer side; the bifurcation is, think taking on more risk, contracting and think a better consumer experience.

The other thing that's happening, just on the consumer side, is that similar to post 2008, we think with high deductible plans and because of unemployment, the cash market for care is going to expand dramatically because people will fall out of insurance or they'll go into a high deductible plan because their employer may be forcing them into one or whatnot. This means you have to build a much more robust consumer experience very quickly. You're going to see an acceleration of all the tech that we've been investing in over the past six years, which is the ability to aggregate those patients, find those people who are seeking care through very sophisticated search engine optimization and SEM, building a great brand, and then bringing those patients into a great transactional experience that is self-service and easy. And then building an engagement platform to where once we've created a relationship with them in that first transaction, how do we keep and engage with them between episodes of care?"

3. Payer/provider risk side will break down into big national payers driving IDNs into regional relationships.  

"The risk side of things will break down into two further different scenarios. The first is the big national players such as Optum, UnitedHealthcare, CVS and Aetna will continue and even accelerate the purchasing of providers like physician practices. The likelihood that over time they're going to share risk with a regional IDN is low. This is bad for the regional IDN because they need to get into these risk contracts, so their next best alternative is if they have a provider-sponsored health plan. However, if they don't, they need to get into a relationship with a regional health plan and create a vertical market in their regional market so that includes them taking on risk. This has the following tech implications: much more payer-provider integration. That's the next thing we're doing; we have our own provider-sponsored health plan. If you're a patient, why is it that you have to go to a separate payer's website to find out your plan information, your employer website to find out your benefits information and your health system website to find out your medical information? That makes no sense. You should be able to see it in one place. This is one of many different payer-provider integration scenarios you can imagine.

On the provider-plan side, there will be technologies that all the factors on the consumer side apply to, but then you also add the payer-provider integration scenarios. You add things that start to make sense under risk, such as fully distributed care to where you're not constantly driving patients into a hospital. You're serving them more at home. Telehealth starts to make a heck of a lot more sense, so in that scenario, instead of asking a provider to maintain revenue, we did a study that showed that just to maintain their current fee-for-service revenue, they'd have to go from kind of on average three visits an hour to five. That's unsustainable under telehealth, because telehealth reimbursement rates will start to drop." 

Click here to view Providence's digital insight report series.

More articles on digital transformation:
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