Dr. Matthew J. Painter discusses the future of hospitals and health systems

As part of an ongoing series, Becker's talked to healthcare leaders who spoke at our 13th Annual Meeting. The following is an answer from Matthew J. Painter, PhD, Director of Leadership Development of the University of Alabama Birmingham Health System and School of Medicine:

Question: What will hospitals and health systems look like in 10 years? What will be different and what will be the same?

Dr. Matthew J. Painter: The healthcare landscape will certainly transition over the next 10-plus years. The reality is that healthcare is a complicated industry unlike any other and making significant value-added shifts are unlikely without forced disruption. Nevertheless, my predictions are admittedly biased towards improvements in our talent ecosystems and operating structures, as performance rests on people and processes. Thus these investments can provide the greatest return on change. Ideally, we will shift to a more patient-centered, holistic, and synergistic industry that focuses on health and wellness.

Organization development

As our challenges mount, we will see a recognition of the need to rethink our talent ecosystems strategically. Organizations will require a stronger alignment regarding our mission, vision, values, and corporate strategies. To aid in this process, there must be an increase in the number of C-level organization development/leadership development executives. These executives possess broad and deep organizational leadership expertise and can be true partners to systems in forging these new talent ecosystems. This alignment includes a focus on culture formation and developing internal leaders who can think more systemically, execute more strategically, work more broadly, lead change more effectively, and excel at managing all types of performance. This investment will also inform succession plans which are vital in providing continuity of service and better managing risk. Investments in talent alignment and culture will be the primary source of competitive advantage and will become increasingly necessary for systems not only to survive but thrive.

Systems, structures and services

As our systems morph, there will be a decentralization of our services, including distributed urgent care, clinics, freestanding emergency rooms, and even service lines that will become more detached from main campuses. This will lend itself to more medical and wellness malls repurposing former retail spaces. This will highlight an emphasis on patient accessibility and experience. Attention towards alternative medicine and wellness will occur as a pipeline to traditional sick care. 

Our approach to patient experience will be transformed into hospitality management in order for clinicians to prioritize care and work at the top of their licensure while meeting consumer demands. Shifts in nursing roles, including scheduling, pay, and new specializations, are likely. Overall, care has become increasingly holistic and collaborative.

Support systems such as information technology will become more complicated and risky as new tech solutions are introduced to the market and the need for additional infrastructure competes with existing systems. Telemedicine will continue its growth trajectory. The virtual collaboration will become the norm in order to promote meeting efficiency and participation and to accommodate the volume of communications required for decision-making. Due to increased specialization, interdisciplinary teams will assume heightened responsibility as a management structure. The payer-centric model will continue.

Specialization and complexity

The healthcare system will see an expansion of mid-level / advanced practice providers. There will need to be additional supporting roles, including administrative, care navigation, supervisory, and hospitality/customer experience guides, to name a few. We will see the appearance of new types of clinical support and ancillary roles that have yet to be defined. New medical specialties and subspecialties will emerge, including increased integration of Pharmacists into care provision.

Human resources/talent operations

Human resources departments will maintain a focus on compliance and risk management. Worker shortages will continue as healthcare roles become less desirable in the short term. Remote work for eligible employees will continue to save fixed and variable costs and prevent new capital expenditures. Since employee expectations for virtual and flexible work will continue, systems will seek opportunities to integrate these arrangements. For example, Health systems will begin creatively addressing ways to meet worker challenges with new work arrangements. Meanwhile, remote work will continue to be a part of recruitment and retention efforts.  Unless the already strained systems and structures are addressed, superficial attempts to mitigate burnout will continue resulting in augmented levels of burnout for those that remain in the system.

In summary, healthcare will continue to evolve. Will it change in the right ways, at the right times, for the right reasons? While significant value-added shifts are unlikely without external forces, we can all do our part in influencing how our industry shifts to optimize the health of our communities. Strong leadership will be required to help our systems successfully navigate the ongoing brave new world of healthcare.

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