Competition heating up in healthcare delivery and tech, says critical access hospital CIO

Darrell Bodnar, CIO of North Country Healthcare in Lancaster, N.H., joined the Becker's Healthcare podcast to talk about major challenges for rural healthcare and exciting technology for the future.

Below is an excerpt from the conversation. Click here to listen to the full episode.

Question: Is there anything front of mind for you as the healthcare landscape changes to make sure your organization is poised for success?

Darrell Bodnar: I hate to use buzzwords, but 'consumerism' and 'patient experience' are front of mind. One of the big challenges we're facing is delivering care to patients when and where they need it. The model we used during the pandemic was to take our existing care delivery models and move them to a remote experience. I think that is what our consumers are going to expect moving forward. It was out of necessity last year and it worked well at the time, but I think we'll have to revisit the entire patient journey map to see how things are changing. That will be critically important to how we look at this digital environment we're rolling out.

The patient journey, from symptom checking to providing contract information and service routine, and even perhaps online digital scheduling, are all expectations our patients will have going forward. Ideally, these things will be done on a mobile device. Even though patient portals are great, you really need to have a true digital front door for all healthcare services and all levels of service, whether it's virtual care, in-person care or chronic disease management.

When I'm looking at the marketplace, the competition is going to continue to drive consumerism. People talk about the big digital giants entering healthcare. We're really in the Wild West of healthcare right now, with 18 percent to 20 percent of GDP devoted to healthcare. There are a lot of dollars there. When you look at Walgreens, Walmart, CVS and Amazon, they're delivering on these items, including retail clinics and health screenings, chronic disease management, vaccines and pharmacy. Amazon and Walmart are getting into urgent care, optometry, dental and behavioral health. Walmart is even standing up imaging that is going to be a real challenge for rural healthcare.

Best Buy has also invested a billion dollars into their purchase of GreatCall, an acquisition for remote patient monitoring. Who would have thought that would have been the level of competition we would have?

Q: Do you see any opportunities for partnerships with the new healthcare entrants, or are they primarily competitors?

DB: I would like to say that you could end up partnering with them, but for critical access hospitals the margins are so thin. Most of those margins come from services they're offering, the ancillary services like labs, radiology imaging and pharmacy. Those are the services that are really going to hurt us. Since 2013, more than 100 rural hospitals have closed. Unfortunately, that trend is going to continue unless we can meet patient needs before [the retail companies] do. They certainly have much deeper pockets and probably a much better platform at which to deliver those services.

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