What will the healthcare landscape look like after the pandemic — and what are you doing now to prepare?
There’s no shortage of content addressing the current realities of the pandemic. In fact, more than 41,000 articles were written about COVID-19 in just the first 3 months of 2020. There is uncertainty around the timing of a vaccine, the toll on the economy and other critical issues. However, the paradigm shifts in how healthcare is delivered, financed and promoted that were at the tipping point prior to the pandemic are now becoming a baseline for the future.
Here are three healthcare predictions that could last long after we’ve found a cure for COVID-19.
The Prediction: Driving profitable revenue will be the C‑suite’s top priority.
Even before COVID, the trends toward consumerism and digital transformation were driving a shift from inpatient to higher-margin outpatient procedures. This “no more heads in beds” approach has been gaining momentum for years and is now accelerating daily with lack of physical access to physicians during the pandemic. The result will be what Jefferson Health CEO Dr. Stephen Klasko calls a “healthcare with no address” environment.
At the same time, revenue growth has become the top priority for hospital and health system CEOs—and the pandemic is only magnifying that mandate. The cost of COVID-related hospitalizations and the subsequent impact on elective procedures and other high-value services is fueling an urgency to drive revenue, along with creating a capacity vacuum that healthcare organizations will be laser-focused on filling when the pandemic dissipates.
According to William Winkenwerder, MD, the former CEO of a large health system who also served as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, hospitals need to take more non-COVID patients—as they can’t expect politicians to solve the problem. “The hard reality is that no amount of financial aid from Washington or increased lines of credit can reverse the growing losses across our entire healthcare system. The only answer is for the healthcare system to cure itself.”
The Implication: As payment for telemedicine and other non-traditional channels expands, the healthcare organizations who embrace these consumer-centric models and build a pipeline for priority service lines will emerge as winners in the post-COVID world.
The Prediction: Healthcare will be delivered from virtually everywhere.
Thanks to Amazon, Uber and other global brands, the modern consumer expects an easy, elegant and convenient experience at every stage of the decision cycle. This is true from researching conditions and evaluating treatment options to patient encounters and loyalty.
In addition, these interactions are increasingly happening from the comfort of home as consumers conduct nearly all activities of modern life—from shopping and working to educating children—without having to go anywhere.
These standards set by retail providers and e‑commerce platforms are having implications across all industries and healthcare is no exception. This is clearly evidenced by the growth in healthcare-related search queries, demand for online health content and adoption of tools like online appointment scheduling and telehealth.
The Implication: Fueled by social distancing efforts due to COVID-19, consumers seeking a retail-esque healthcare experience beyond the traditional hospital or physician practice setting will progress until today’s norms could seem antiquated in the near future. In fact, Dr Klasko suggests that, “We should never again use the word ‘telehealth’ just as we don’t use the word ‘telebanking.’ It’s just that 90% of banking went from the bank to the home. Much the same will happen in healthcare.”
The Prediction: The role of caregiver will be redefined.
Physician burnout and nursing shortages were critical issues before the pandemic, and the stress associated with the surge in COVID-19 cases—overcrowded hospitals, limited resources and their own threat of infection—has only exacerbated those concerns.
The strategies deployed by healthcare providers and government regulators to address the crisis have been tremendous, including.
- Redirecting physicians and nurses to care for COVID-19 patients
- Allowing nurse practitioners, physician assistants and others to perform expanded functions without physician supervision
- Offering fourth-year medical students the opportunity to graduate early and jump into action
- Enabling non-clinical staff to triage patients
Many of these efforts to expand capacity are likely to remain in place as healthcare leaders audit their plans for an unexpected spike in patient volumes. When combined with the potential use cases for artificial intelligence (Dr. Klasko even suggests that “Any doctor that can be replaced by a computer should be”), it’s clear healthcare providers of the future could look a lot different than the ones caring for patients today.
The Implication: Business development leaders that have focused outreach and referral development strategies on physicians will need to reconsider their audience and messaging strategies. In addition, marketing and communications leaders will be counted on to support recruiting, onboarding and training for new clinical peers that ensure a satisfactory patient experience and maximum reimbursement.
Healthcare Predictions: Looking Ahead
Along with these themes, another vestige of COVID-19 will be a greater appreciation for the healthcare providers who are putting themselves in harm’s way. We believe healthcare marketing and communication professionals have also been instrumental in educating their communities, celebrating their colleagues and flattening the infection curve.
And since the only constant in health care is change, those who can inform strategy, communicate effectively and engage customers—including consumers, patients, providers and other constituents—will continue to be pivotal as we prepare for the next crisis. That’s one of the most important healthcare predictions out of the group.
As this recent HBR article suggests, “it is critical to start considering how the lessons of this crisis can be captured not only to make the next crisis easier to manage but also to ensure that the ongoing operation of our healthcare system is improved in a fundamental manner.”
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