By Matt Phillion
The digital transformation in healthcare is happening now. As we enter 2023, the question inevitably comes up: What’s next? Healthcare organizations have already had a plethora of new options and technologies arise from the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically regarding safety and telehealth. How will these continue to evolve during the upcoming year?
The answer likely has to do with the increase in patient empowerment and the necessity of delivering a great consumer experience, says Hari Prasad, CEO of Yosi Health.
“We’re happy to see patients are now demanding their experience reflect the same high standards of choice, convenience, and transparency” that they receive elsewhere, says Prasad. “As this transformation happens, it’s allowed providers to focus more on the experience they deliver to their patients. As a result, we’re seeing real adoption of new tech and the convenience and choice patients are expecting.”
A recent survey by Fierce Healthcare showed that about 40% of patients will switch providers as a result of a poor digital experience, Prasad notes.
“What we used to think of as a patient was someone in pain, sick, vulnerable,” he says. But now there is an informed consumer aspect to the patient experience, Prasad notes, and with that comes the expectation of a higher level of convenience.
As an example, the Fierce Healthcare survey identified that 62% of patients prefer virtual visits now. “That’s a big number. Patients require more convenient options as other aspects of their lives such as work, childcare, etc., are all the things that can get in the way of an in-person visit,” says Prasad.
COVID-19 played a key part in this evolution, as it necessitated the adoption of technologies like virtual visits, remote pre-arrival registrations, and other ways to safely navigate healthcare during and after the pandemic.
Providers need new technology as well
On the provider end of the equation, we’re seeing incredible burnout. In an effort to address provider well-being and keep skilled people in the industry, healthcare has looked more and more to technology and automation.
“What we’re seeing is widespread adoption and a keen interest in learning about what technologies are available for them to use and automatically engage patients more,” says Prasad. “Care centers are completing their due diligence in more comprehensive ways, looking at advanced technologies that will enable them to … address all the needs of their staff [and] patients, accommodating their unique workflows and how all these things integrate with the EMR.”
Instead of using tools that “just do a job,” the growth in new technology during the pandemic has inspired providers to seek more customization from these platforms.
“Previously, providers have been more OK with technology that doesn’t truly meet their needs but was better than what they had. Now they’re demanding more from technology companies, which is a very positive trend,” says Prasad.
In the past, healthcare has been notoriously slow to adopt new technology—in large part because of safety concerns, security issues, and compliance needs. There was also a concern that new technology would not work with EMR systems. Lastly, Prasad notes, health systems feared that patients simply wouldn’t adopt the technology.
“Those fears have been continually allayed, and ironically, providers are more open because their patients are now demanding better experiences, otherwise they’re going to switch providers,” says Prasad. “They’re forced to look for technology that integrate with their EMR and workflows as well as meeting the consumer needs of the patient.”
So many tools, so many choices
This rapid adoption has resulted in a proliferation of technologies, Prasad points out. “They have more choices and are able to choose from a set of services or vendors who claim they can address all those concerns,” he says.
Vendors, meanwhile, find themselves at a key moment of evolution for their technologies to truly separate the wheat from the chaff. “A lot of technology vendors have quickly pivoted their solutions or offered other solutions to meet those provider needs, and have been offering a lot of new products flooding the market,” says Prasad. “This conversely makes it more difficult for providers to choose the right solution or vendor.”
For example, take patient check-in technology. Many kiosk or tablet companies focusing on digital point-of-care check-ins quickly pivoted to create virtual check-in solutions. Because the pivot was so fast, Prasad notes, those solutions often didn’t offer what the providers needed. “Enough time has passed that we’ve seen the cream rise to the top among these options,” he says.
As the pace of technological evolution in this ecosystem continues to quicken, it’s clear that providers are evaluating products based on their own needs, not on how a platform claims it can “do things better,” Prasad notes.
The payer’s role in technology
With a healthcare market more populated by informed consumers, payers are also offering more information about price transparency, Prasad says.
“One of the biggest pain point for patients is how much a service costs,” says Prasad. “We’re seeing payers making moves toward transparency, and we’re also seeing big tech and pharma companies creating a lot of on-site clinics to provide care for patients in the community.”
Patients have more choices for where to obtain care as companies like Amazon or CVS get into the on-site clinic space, he notes. Meanwhile, EHR vendors are becoming more receptive to integrating their solutions with those of other vendors, closing some gaps that might otherwise exist.
“Overall, I think COVID highlighted perennial deficiencies in our ecosystem and, as a result, there’s more innovation and more velocity for continued innovation,” says Prasad. “This is a good net positive for our healthcare system to evolve and emerge as a better, more robust, and sustainable industry.”
Still, there remain areas for improvement as we build better efficiencies in the new year and beyond.
“One thing I worry about with technology solutions is that they’re not well thought out” before providers try them, Prasad says. If health systems try to implement a solution that isn’t well thought out or doesn’t provide a great experience, it stands to reason providers will balk at it.
“And then we’re back again to adopting technology more slowly out of legitimate concerns,” says Prasad. “If new technology doesn’t truly address the gaps and help providers achieve all of their goals, this results in providers becoming more concerned. … Technology companies can either positively reinforce the adoption of new technology, or if it’s not done well, they’re reinforcing why providers were hesitant in the first place.”
Regardless, Prasad doesn’t see these new advancements going away soon. “I believe this trend is here to stay. So many patients are now working from home and need some of these conveniences to meet with providers in a virtual setup,” says Prasad. “We believe it will continue. We’re seeing changes in how insurance coverage is covering these types of services and some of the advances in technology, such as remote patient monitoring and virtual visits. Those are trends we expect to see continue and accelerate.”
More numbers from the Fierce Healthcare survey to keep in mind: 70% of patients’ care decisions are driven by experience, and about 80% of patients say they trust online reviews of providers. Yosi Health conducted a survey in which 83% of patients said they want providers to offer online scheduling.
“When they look for online appointments, they’re likely to go online and book that appointment. We expect a lot of evolution and change on that front,” says Prasad.
To sum up where the industry is headed in the near future, “hyper-personalization” is the word Prasad opts for. “That’s what we see in other aspects of our lives, but when it comes to healthcare, because of where we are in the technological evolution, hyper-personalization doesn’t exist in the truest form,” he says. “We’re going to see companies strive toward that and make significant inroads into a truly hyper-personalized experience.”
Hyper-personalization needs to be done right to work, though. “It needs a lot of technological infrastructure, automation, and artificial intelligence to do it correctly, which can get expensive and tricky,” says Prasad. “Many of our services in healthcare are so disparate. That’s where we’re expecting the revolution to happen. When we truly engage with patients, we know who they are, what their needs are, and engage with them fully.”
This is a step away from the traditional episodic delivery of healthcare, he says. “Unfortunately, that’s still something we need to address as an industry,” says Prasad. “We need systems that talk to each other and fully understand a holistic view of the patient.”
Matt Phillion is a freelance writer covering healthcare, cybersecurity, and more. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.