by Jeff Becker, Senior Analyst, Forrester
The healthcare industry is ripe for cloud-enabled digital transformation. Healthcare leaders face a year defined by APIs that will increase consumer access to both payer-owned and provider-owned data. They face a race among public cloud vendors to introduce differentiated healthcare services that support data-driven digital transformation.
But will key decision makers bite in 2021? Early signs from surveys fielded throughout the pandemic say no.
In a survey conducted just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Forrester found that improving clinical outcomes was the number one priority reported by healthcare technology leaders. The pandemic has dramatically reshaped the industry’s priorities. Today, survey data reveals that cost-reduction and optimisation of existing solutions take the top two spots in healthcare technology priorities. The industry is in a very different place today than it was at the beginning of the year.
Returning to growth is top of mind for industry leaders. The American Hospital Association pegs economic losses faced by healthcare organisations between March and June at over $200 billion. During this same timeframe, healthcare organisations were laying off and furloughing thousands of workers. Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that between February and April, 10 percent of the healthcare workforce lost their jobs. While some have started bringing furloughed workers back, most remain out of work.
As the industry pushes forward in a short-staffed fight to curb COVID-19, healthcare organisations have implemented new technologies across almost every touchpoint in the continuum of care. Today, chatbots are automating the symptom-screening process, while virtual care solutions are helping keep doctors and patients connected from the safety of their homes.
These visits extend beyond coronavirus screenings. In a recent analysis of Medicare telehealth utilisation, CMS found that 0.1 percent of primary care visits were conducted virtually in February, but by April that grew to 44 percent. In hard-hit areas like Boston, 73 percent of primary care was delivered virtually. Nationally, Forrester is forecasting that more than 1 billion virtual visits will take place in 2020 as a direct result of COVID-19.
This digital-first pivot does not end with symptom checkers and virtual visits. Healthcare organisations are leveraging at-home diagnostic kits and are creating drive-through testing centres to scale up their ability to test symptomatic patients outside traditional care settings. Remote patient monitoring programmes are being deployed to care for COVID-positive patients while they recover at home. These platforms leverage IoT-connected medical devices to capture key clinical measures like oxygen saturation and power predictive models that forecast patient deterioration.
In the hospital, predictive models are helping forecast the demand for staff, supplies and beds, so healthcare leaders can load-balance resources within their communities. Virtual scribes trained to support COVID-19 visits are being deployed to automate the clinical documentation burden faced by providers, both virtually and in person. Smart cameras and connected monitors are being deployed within patient rooms to provide clinicians with a way of communicating with hospitalised patients without having to enter the room. These new channels are protecting frontline clinicians and preserving critical PPE stock.
While many of these solutions are not new, this end-to-end digital architecture is very new for most healthcare organisations. But consumer sentiment suggests they are also here to stay. In a recent survey, 32 percent of consumers indicated that they would continue seeking care virtually after the pandemic.
With new point solutions in place across the continuum, healthcare is poised for an era focused on optimising patient experiences within this new digital environment. Healthcare leaders tell us their first order of business is improving integration between new virtual visit technology and existing electronic health records and patient portals. Next will come an effort to improve data-sharing strategies with external partners across the community who are involved in the local COVID-19 response. Only then will health systems return to their more ambitious digital transformation efforts.
When that day comes, be it in 2021 or later, healthcare organisations will find that public cloud vendors are jockeying for position as the enabler of healthcare’s digital transformation, building the data pipeline needed to create an intelligent backend to this new digital health architecture. Public cloud vendors are engineering platforms that will help health systems blend the data currently trapped within this myriad of point solutions, and the advanced analytics tools needed to create a centralised, 360-degree view of the patient.
Health systems will leverage these new digital capabilities to grow digital health service business lines that will complement traditional in person care and help the business return to financial stability.
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