Where health systems will focus innovation spend next

Becker's recently invited hospital and health system chief innovation officers to share their proudest innovations. Now, to look ahead, we asked them where they see hospitals and health systems focusing their projects and investments in the future.

Note: Their responses have been lightly edited for clarity.

Roy Rosin. Chief Innovation Officer of Penn Medicine (Philadelphia): My crystal ball is only occasionally dependable, but there are a few areas where I expect focus. One is clinician burden and experience, as having healthy, engaged clinicians remains essential and challenging. A second is access, as there continues to be a supply-demand mismatch and we'd like to serve and help more people who need care. New care models, automation, triage and process redesigns all show promise in this arena. Third would be performance against risk-bearing contracts given the opportunity to deliver high-value care and benefit from higher quality, more efficient care delivery. We're making progress against all three, revealing that these are addressable challenges and putting wind in the sails of further investment.

Thomas Graham, MD. Chief Innovation and Transformation Officer of Kettering (Ohio) Health: I have long argued that innovation is not esoteric — it's essential. However, now more than ever, health systems are investing in strategically aligned, creative advancements that can address their most pressing needs and unsolved problems. Inherently, this means those innovations that can deliver measurable impacts to operational metrics or the bottom line. This also should open the minds of leaders to collaborations, both with traditional and new partner co-innovators, as well as to more receptively listen to emerging companies with promise, despite the usual concerns of "too early, too risky."

Daniel Durand, MD. Chief Clinical Officer of LifeBridge Health (Baltimore): Health system innovation dollars in the immediate post-COVID era will flow primarily into two categories: "distributed care" investments aimed at supporting the coordination and delivery of care outside of the hospital, and "clinical workforce stabilization" efforts aimed at aggregating and more efficiently leveraging credentialed clinical staff across the full continuum of care.

Distributed care offerings are tech-enabled services that include point-of-care diagnostics, continuous and ambient remote patient monitoring, patient engagement apps, etc. These solutions collectively form the front end of the patient data funnel. The next layer of technology will involve artificial intelligence chatbots and other algorithms that will convert the resultant massive data streams into actionable information. Patient navigation centers, nurse triage lines, telehealth command centers and other hubs will then act on this information to both deliver timely care and guide patients through their customized healthcare journeys. The ever-expanding distributed care continuum will increasingly include the places in which patients spend most of their lives, such as the home.

By most estimates, the clinical workforce shortages currently plaguing the industry will continue to worsen significantly as baby boomers age and healthcare utilization skyrockets over the next two decades without any proportionate increase in the labor pool of credentialed providers. Simply stated, for the rest of our careers as health system leaders we will need to do more with less when it comes to labor of all kinds, but especially credentialed clinical labor, which is in acutely short supply and without which care cannot be delivered. We are already seeing this reality reflected in the fact that controlling nursing and physician labor costs has become the No. 1 priority of health system and hospital leadership across the nation over the past year. Across the industry, information systems budgets and capital purchases are being delayed or rethought in order to account for the growing cost burden of clinical salaries. But this is a Catch-22, because the only long-term solution to the clinical labor shortage is to make the right investments in telehealth and automation and to get them right as soon as possible.

Successful investments in this clinical workforce stabilization domain will have the following profile: 1) High net promoter score with the clinical staff who actually use them, making the staff more likely to choose and/or stay with a particular employer. 2) Proof that the solution positively enhances clinical productivity and leverages clinical staff across multiple venues so that fewer credentialed staff are needed. 3) Extremely lean cost structure, flexible payment models, and low administrative burden over the first fiscal year of implementation, so that health systems can prove out points one and two without compromising their existing staffing and capital budget.

Turnkey solutions that combine both licensed providers and technology to create revenue streams from sources other than health system budgets, and which present "full outsource" options for specific hard-to-staff clinical areas, will have particularly high appeal for the foreseeable future (think telepsychiatry, teleradiology, telepathology, etc.).

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