10 minute read 3 Jun 2021
Female surgeon using digital tablet

Now, next and beyond: health care and technology

Authors
Leisa Maddoux

EY Global and US Health Transformation Practice Leader

Purpose-driven leader. Change consultant. Problem solver.

Aloha McBride

EY Global Health Consulting Leader

Passionate about the delivery of safe, high-quality healthcare at a reasonable price. Innovator. Dog mom.

10 minute read 3 Jun 2021
Related topics Smart Health Health COVID-19

Healthcare executives share their experiences and lessons learned during a year that has seen the technology-driven reset of health care.

In brief:

  • Pivoting to digital health care delivery and scaling up an existing telehealth service.
  • Operating models are changing to incorporate technologies to drive long-planned changes.
  • Several challenges present significant hurdles to the success of new health care technology and solutions.

The recent challenges faced by the health industry have been truly significant. We recently held a series of virtual roundtables with health care executives in three regions — the Americas, Europe and the Middle East, and Asia-Pacific – to share experiences and lessons learned. Each roundtable was an opportunity to hear about what is happening that might be of interest to others.

Below we discuss key trends and themes shared in each of the roundtables and the important insights that emerged from these global conversations.

Although each roundtable had a unique and locally relevant focus, underlying each discussion was the driving theme of the technology-driven reset of health care that we have seen in the past year. 

Woman doctor using tablet
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Chapter 1

Now: rapid adoption of digital ways of working

How COVID-19 fast-tracked long-desired changes.

Executives shared experiences in pivoting to digital health care delivery, where what would normally have taken decades to flow through the health industry occurred in the space of a few days or weeks.

Scaling up an existing telehealth service to meet unprecedented demand was covered in the Americas roundtable. Participants learned how a COVID-19-driven expansion of an already robust service saw a significant growth in access to care, including access to specialist services 24/7 by patients at home or in rural communities. Local management of patients avoided transfers to referral centers in larger cities, reducing strain on facilities and lowering risk of infection. Pivotal to success was an integrated approach where telehealth was not siloed but embedded into the health system’s overall approach to care.

Moving toward becoming a smart health system was also a point of discussion in the Americas roundtable. A case study shared how deploying a real-time medical command center control system boosted operating room efficiency. In this example, transformative smart technologies that anticipate and resolve delays in real-time were found to be invaluable in smoothing processes for the efficient use of every available bed and coordination between the vast mix of resources that go into complex care. 

The benefits of the technology were almost immediately realized. The first case on-time starts improved to 95%, turnover time was reduced by up to 50%, patient wait time reduced up to 60% and procedure volume increased up to 35%. As the organization strove to streamline and systematize their processes and systems, acquiring real-time information was an efficient way to tackle the challenge of siloed processes.

Responding to COVID-19 by introducing innovative technology-based solutions, such as virtual patient triage, was discussed in the Europe/Middle East roundtable. Novel services, including chatbot and AI-based virtual screening tools, were used for patient management and burden relief of the hospital workforce. Call centers, for example, handled patient queries and support for asymptomatic and less serious patients in their homes.

The pandemic heightened the focus on the value of prevention and several health systems deployed AI-based tools for risk stratification of patients and highly targeted care strategies. Health technologies acted as a vital partner in this break with the past in two key ways: first, underpinning the sharp shift to virtual care as the health industry reconsidered its core assumptions around in-person care, and second, the emergence of a deep stream of innovation directed toward conquering the crisis.

Similarly, the Asia-Pacific roundtable examined transformation initiatives as organizations, faced with a surge in demand moved to a technology-driven transformation. Virtual health and care were adopted far more rapidly than anticipated due to COVID-19. And while demand for virtual care has been driven by the pandemic-related health concerns, a lasting legacy is that consumers expect virtual care to be part of care as usual, post pandemic.

Male Surgeons Wearing Scrubs Looking At Digital Tablet In Hospital Operating Theater
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Chapter 2

Next: Changes in operating models

The business transformation journey amidst the COVID-19 crisis and lessons that re-shape the next generation of health care delivery.

The rapid changes in operating models have not been without challenges. Roundtable participants shared thoughts on how operating models are changing to incorporate technologies to drive long-planned changes.

A case study presented in the Asia-Pacific session described experience to-date in harnessing technology and data to meet an organization’s mission of delivering world-class health outcomes and experiences. To improve the life outcomes of patients, teams of software and computer engineers, product developers and experience designers focused on creating evidence-based clinical workflow products.

Developing user-friendly evidence-based tools allowed for not only care standardization against best-practices but also improving data capture. Automation of back-end systems through machine learning (ML) and optical character recognition (OCR) technology reduced the time-to-start treatment for patients, relieved clinical staff of low-value tasks and enabled them to spend more time with patients. Just pre-populating fields in workflow products alone resulted in around 10% efficiency gains. And although it is still early days, the organization’s operating model is changing. It has found that technology does not have to be highly complicated.

If data are made available and consumable for doctors, then care pathways are changed for better patient outcomes. Moreover, better data such as patient reported outcomes captured in a patient portal has been a major gamechanger for the nursing staff, allowing them to provide a high level of care remotely. By continuously improving data quality, longer-term goals for highly personalized treatments become more achievable as the operating model moves from just digitizing processes to data-driven insights that get people into the right care pathway.

Using automation to solve small problems significant enough to disrupt achieving organizational goals was covered in the Americas roundtable. Using technology to simplify and automate small processes and tasks, such as automated signature capture for onboarded doctors and nurses, simplified a process that ordinarily involved fax machines, scanners and an effort of about 2,000 hours annually.

 The discussion also covered “level loading” by using a command center to efficiently balance the load on the health system. In so doing, this underpins a significant change in operating model by enabling patients to be kept closer to home and in community hospitals. Adopting an integrated approach between hospital and community and also with patient transport and transfer services enabled the health system to move to a frictionless model integrating hospital and community or home-based care.

Top of mind for participants in the Europe/Middle East roundtable was shifting business and operational models to transition novel services set up to deal with the pandemic into the future service delivery mix. New models such as drive-through clinics and call centers will likely provide community care in the future, and participants expect that retailers will play a greater role in health care by taking a role in the medication supply chain outside of the hospitals.

As the focus of care shifts to population management, new technologies that will drive success are those that can help push care out of the hospitals into the community. In the near future, hospitals will have digital front doors, where consumers experience a cohesive and seamless one-touch entry point, with slimmer physical offerings focused on high-acuity, complex care, and with increased virtual offerings.

Woman talking with a doctor online using digital tablet
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Chapter 3

Beyond: locking in what has been learned

Several challenges present significant hurdles to the success of new health care technology and solutions.

Striving for exceptional customer experience was noted as a key driver of future success by the Europe/Middle East participants. Many spoke of a significant increase in customer satisfaction and improved patient experience through the use of telemonitoring services. In the longer term, participants interests are shifting to investing in prevention and wellness programs. These achieve the dual purpose of keeping patients out of hospital and leveraging technologies, further support a focus on lifestyle management rather than disease management. As health care providers understand how big a role technology will play in the coming years, new high-tech and light-touch models of care will emerge that will drive and anchor strong patient loyalty to a health system or service.

The Americas roundtable talked through many issues related to how to best capitalize on emerging disruptive technologies. A primary concern was the significant investment needed in training their physicians, nurses and staff to use a new technology. Another was the need to customize existing solutions to truly meet the requirements of a health system. Moreover, while customization is possible for bigger health systems, smaller providers often struggle to afford, let alone reap the benefits of a complicated tech solution that doesn’t align with their existing systems.

With regards to technology being used to solve smaller problems such as signature capture, one participant shared their challenge of gaining buy-in from the leadership. Often, such smaller solutions don’t generate revenue by themselves, but they ultimately enable the workforce to efficiently conduct their activities, which in turn, generates revenue for the hospital. Issues of workflow changes, additional staff burden and training and support for health care personnel as a result of the new technology implementation were other common problems encountered.

Finally, in the Asia-Pacific roundtable, discussion turned to data and the challenges and constraints on interoperability of data across the globe. Discussion focused upon recent rules in the US that require data sharing between patients and providers to create permissioned data flow rather than data capture and restriction. Critical factors are security and privacy and the limitations of localized data sets in a global organization.

Discussion covered the advantages of greater standardization across regions and localities that would give rise to better data quality and thus opportunities to leverage the data for care improvements. However, the state of readiness for digitalization varies significantly across the region with issues around the relative digital maturity of health systems, acceptance by doctors and, in some areas, patient’s access to affordable phone and data packages all being complex environmental factors that require a long-term perspective to resolve.

It was noted, however, that one outcome of COVID-19 in the Asia-Pacific region has been a lessening of patient’s reluctance to engage. COVID-19 has made people more comfortable with connecting and this presents opportunities to leverage customer relationship management (CRM) systems to further educate patients and engage them in the prevention and better management of chronic conditions.

MRI machine and screens
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Chapter 4

The future arrived faster than expected

Technology advancements can transform health care provider models and improve patient experience and quality of care.

As we heard in these roundtables, health care systems across the globe have started on different stages along the technological transformation journey, one that was fast-forwarded by the COVID-19 pandemic. The upside of the COVID-19 disruption has been a permanent change in the way health systems, organizations and consumers use digital health technologies.

The following key themes emerged from the roundtables:

  • The time to change is now: Take advantage of the current momentum to incentivize and extend the adoption of digital and automation tools within health care organizations.
  • Bring stakeholders alongside: Prepare and involve the health workforce in organizational transformations to adopt virtual care more broadly, and support health consumers in developing digital literacy.
  • Solve a big problem simply: Technology not only has to solve a big enough problem such as improving quality, revenue cycle management, usability of EHR or patient satisfaction. It also has to be accessible and deliver return on effort — not make a user’s life more difficult.
  • Don’t go it alone; partner and learn from others: Strong credibility and experience of the digital solution provider and a strategic collaboration with them to establish a balanced implementation plan is vital. Where systems are lagging, opportunity exists to leverage what can be learned from advanced markets to leapfrog ahead.

Health care organizations wanting to unlock interaction data and to modernize their consumer and staff experience face hard decisions around whether to optimize existing assets (by modification or extension), introduce new modular resources that complement the existing core or invest in creating a new ecosystem from the ground up.

As we reflect on what comes next, this is an opportune moment to pursue real transformation for better connected and integrated data and information systems. Digital technologies offer a data-driven foundation for the future health industry.

The EY teams would like to thank all the executives who participated in this discussion. We look forward to continued interactions as we navigate these challenging times together.

Summary

Our recent virtual roundtables gathered health executives from the Americas, Europe and the Middle East, and Asia Pacific for discussions on how technology has driven change in health care during the COVID-19 pandemic. Executives shared their experiences and lessons learned on digital health care delivery, changes in operating models and what comes next.

About this article

Authors
Leisa Maddoux

EY Global and US Health Transformation Practice Leader

Purpose-driven leader. Change consultant. Problem solver.

Aloha McBride

EY Global Health Consulting Leader

Passionate about the delivery of safe, high-quality healthcare at a reasonable price. Innovator. Dog mom.

Related topics Smart Health Health COVID-19