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Preparing for the Future of Healthcare When Everything is Always Changing

Anita Jivani

The healthcare industry faces unique complexities in preparing for and responding to the multitude of transformations occurring in the industry. Administrative bureaucracy, government regulation, legal costs, and the above-all commitment to positive patient outcomes are all factors that render healthcare a difficult industry to change quickly. However, the influential trends that have hit other industries are becoming ubiquitous in healthcare, and we can apply lessons learned from other industries with similar transformations to respond effectively in the healthcare space.

Three Ways to Prepare Proactively for the Future of Healthcare

  1. Laser-focused attention to patient experience
  2. Robust platforms to process data and analytics
  3. Internal capability to manage high amounts of change

In June, we partnered with Nokia Bell Labs to host a healthcare executive roundtable discussing these trends and how to handle them. Roundtable participants came from a variety of backgrounds including venture capital, big pharma, IoT, physician services, and healthcare administration. Their diverse perspectives, coupled with our firm’s experience and research in this field, led to the following insights.

#1: Laser-focused attention to patient experience

Half of healthcare provider executives who participated in a recent PWC survey identified “revamping the patient experience” as a top priority within the next five years. Organizations are addressing this in different ways, including online self-service options (such as e-pay and digital communications), facility improvements, 24-hour hotlines, and remote patient monitoring.

The case for focusing on patient experience is the same as why businesses are focusing on customer experience – operational efficiency, competitive differentiation, and increased loyalty. Unique to the healthcare industry is also the strong connection between patient experience and patient safety. Consider also changing population demographics and preferences; millennials hold online reviews, affordability, speed of care, and telemedicine as important factors in their healthcare decisions, according to a recent Gallup poll, whereas the aging population may focus on factors such as face time and individual attention. Customizing the patient experience to the specific customer, whose needs are beginning to vary significantly at the individual level, will be critical to success in the healthcare industry.

One way customers are coming to the center of healthcare innovation is through co-creation labs that rely on “diverse stakeholders beyond clinicians (designers, engineers, business professionals, and patients).” By incorporating end-user feedback throughout the design process, both quality and speed-to-market are improved. These innovation labs take principles of agile methodology and user experience as mastered in other industries and effectively apply them to healthcare, creating solutions that best address the needs of individuals.

#2: Robust platforms to process data and analytics

Over the past decade, the major technological focus for health systems was the shift to electronic health records (EHR), which has created the potential for a dynamic, data-driven environment. This has enabled a more sophisticated and streamlined data collection process for healthcare. Not only is it easier to collect health data, but consumers are more willing than ever to collect and track such data at a micro level (think wearable health trackers like Fitbit, which are predicted to increase to 379 million in North America by 2021). In response, healthcare organizations should be moving quickly from focusing on data collection to determining how to use this data effectively to communicate to their patients, determine trends and patterns based on behavior, and, most importantly, forecast behaviors and risks for patients. In order to do this, organizations need to establish strong platforms that can take in large amounts of data complimented by individuals across the organization that have the capability to translate the results of this data into tactical improvements for patient outcomes.

A great example of this in practice was highlighted in a 2018 study conducted by the University of Waterloo where researchers successfully used artificial intelligence with wearable technology data to predict the onset of disease. Think of the data available to the healthcare industry as a whole – its applications are limitless, from predicting costs to creating highly personalized health assessments for patients.

As one of our roundtable participants pointed out, “analytics and tech fluency needs to exist throughout the organization, not in a silo.” Self-service analytics, combined with the right employee training programs, is a great solution to this. Many businesses are investing heavily in this space by building out comprehensive analytics programs, and health organizations should follow suit. Another option is to partner with technology-based organizations, such as Google, who may someday (or even today) have more information on someone’s health than their own doctor. Building partnerships, both inside the healthcare space and outside the industry, will catapult innovation in the industry.

#3: Internal capability to manage high amounts of change

The increasing pace of change is industry-agnostic, and organizations are growing their agility by focusing on internal capability to navigate change. Healthcare is facing a tremendous amount of change including M&A (a primary source of growth according to a report by Bain & Company), affordable wearable technologies, and regulations that are highly volatile and dependent on the current administration.

The “fail fast” mindset that accompanies innovation in other industries is not natural in healthcare, which takes a linear and scientific approach to its growth. Nevertheless, to be successful in the new era of technology, leaders in healthcare must take a blended approach to innovation when it comes to change and collaboration. Physicians and nurses will need to become more comfortable working side-by-side with artificial intelligence, executives in healthcare will need to build organizations that can quickly respond to industry changes, and everyone will need to learn how to play outside of their comfort zone. Not only will this allow organizations to provide the best patient experience but it will also enable them to share the financial burden during a time when large-scale and wide-spread investments will be critical to the industry’s success.

Organizations like Nokia Bell Labs are leading the way through platforms such as the Open Ecosystem Network, a hub that encourages cross-industry innovative collaboration. Organizations can post “challenges” soliciting ideas and proposals from users of the site. The healthcare executives at our roundtable agreed this concept of shared development with a greater focus on collaboration over competition will greatly increase the speed and quality of innovation in their industry. Although challenges to this collaboration, such as shared Intellectual Property and diffused Return on Investment, make some organizations hesitant to engage, innovation in healthcare will only reach its potential through cooperation, not competition.

Customer experience, data & analytics, and change agility have rapidly made their way to the healthcare industry. Our advice is for leaders in Healthcare to respond by using proven techniques in an increasingly evolving and nebulous industry.