The healthcare marketplace was in the midst of change before the pandemic, but COVID-19 radically shortened the timetable. Health systems and hospitals planning for their recoveries must now consider how their patients would prefer to do business from now on – and it definitely isn’t business as usual.
Change is hard. Ask anyone who has tried to implement new practices or policies at a school or workplace or in the marketplace. Unless something really extraordinary happens, getting people to stop doing things a familiar way and to adopt a new way is hard work. Unless there’s huge latent demand for the “new way” (e.g. smart phones), change takes time and trouble, usually a lot of it. Then in early 2020, COVID-19 hit the United States, ushering in what may end up being the most transformational series of events in the history of America’s healthcare system.
These market-driven, government-supported changes have redefined healthcare delivery for patients from today on. And because they have transformed the way consumers think about and access healthcare, they have also redefined success for hospitals, health systems and other healthcare providers. In 2021 and beyond, the most successful healthcare providers will invest in systems that help them embrace these four changes.
- Virtual care delivery will be a permanent, prominent part of the healthcare delivery landscape
- Providers will be expected to provide their patients and communities with reliable information about price and quality to empower their ability to choose
- Total system interoperability, the seamless integration of all systems affecting the patient care experience, will become an operating standard.
- Technology will be relied upon for the delivery of better, more personalized patient experiences at scale.
Virtual care delivery will be a permanent, prominent part of the healthcare delivery landscape.
In a Loyale article published earlier this year titled “Healthcare’s COVID=19 Response Is a Window to the Industry’s Future,” we studied the healthcare industry’s unprecedented adaptability in the face of a once-a-century public health crisis. A big part of that ongoing success story has been the industry’s successful ramp up of virtual care delivery, which at its peak in April was up more than 8,000 percent over the same period the previous year. Just as important as the large number of patients who tried digitally delivered care for the first time was the fact that most said they would use it again.
It’s critical to note that this change would not have been possible without Medicare and Medicaid waiving the financial disincentives for virtual care (aka telehealth). In the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) public health emergency declaration of January 31, and renewed on April 21 and July 24. For the duration of the emergency, HHS announced a number of temporary policy changes designed to maintain the public’s accessibility to care during a period of time when people either didn’t want to risk potential exposure by visiting their care provider, or were prohibited by more restrictive stay-at-home orders that began at the state level in March.
The resounding success of the experiment has led industry leaders to call for permanent changes to Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements to allow for the continued use of telehealth as a legitimate care delivery channel. In fact, according to one story published by HealthcareDive just this week, “Members of the congressional advisory group Medicare Payment Advisory Commission agree telehealth is here to stay, but are concerned about how to improve access without also running up substantial costs in the Medicare program.” We at Loyale are confident that HHS and providers will strike a balance that meets the needs of consumers and supports the financial sustainability of healthcare providers.
Providers will be expected to provide their patients and communities with reliable information about price and quality to empower their ability to choose
At the same time that Medicare is paying more for digitally-delivered care, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is doubling down on its years-long effort to empower patient consumerism. As recently as September 3, 2020, CMS announced the launch of Care Compare, “a streamlined redesign of eight existing CMS healthcare compare tools… (to) provide a single user-friendly interface that patients and caregivers can use to make informed decisions about healthcare based on cost, quality of care, volume of services and other data.”
This is just one of many initiatives currently underway by HHS and CMS designed to pressure healthcare providers to provide their communities with meaningful, reliable information when seeking and choosing their healthcare providers. If this regulatory pressure isn’t enough, there are currently more than 800 bills addressing healthcare price transparency and consumer costs in various stages in the U.S. Congress. Up ‘til now, the healthcare industry has been able to rely on its complexity and variability to evade calls for true, reliable price transparency. But those excuses will not continue to hold water in the post-COVID-19 healthcare marketplace.
System interoperability, the seamless integration of all systems affecting the patient care experience will become an operating standard.
Long before COVID-19, in 2004, the federal government established the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC, a division of HHS), “to support the adoption of health information technology and the promotion of nationwide health information exchange to improve health care.” Throughout the pandemic, the ONC has continued to develop standards for the special requirements in the COVID-19 era.
The ONC’s vision of “High-quality care, lower costs, healthy population, and engaged people” is being pursued by way of four strategic goals: 1) Advance Person-Centered and Self-Managed Health; 2) Transform Health Care Delivery and Community Health; 3) Foster Research, Scientific Knowledge and Innovation; and 4) Enhance Nation’s Health IT Infrastructure.
In our view as a company dedicated to helping healthcare providers engage more meaningfully with their patients, the ONC’s vision and goals align well with patient expectations but they fall short when addressing nonclinical dimensions of the care experience. The standards they have developed to date have focused primarily on systems and information within the medical dimension of care, leaving healthcare providers on their own to identify which systems offer them and their patients the utility and transparency they need in the areas of revenue cycle management, administration and operating analytics.
Post-COVID-19, the most successful healthcare providers will be those who deliver superior experiences in every dimension of care at every setting on every occasion. To do that, they’ll rely on systems like Loyale’s Patient Financial Manager™ that interoperate with EHR systems to seamlessly integrate patient financial information and payment planning across the enterprise, helping leading health systems like HCA Healthcare improve patient satisfaction and build patient loyalty.
Technology will be relied upon for the delivery of better, more personalized patient experiences at scale.
It is significant that the first strategic goal of the ONC (above) is to “advance person-centered and self-managed health” in its pursuit of higher quality, lower costs, better population health and better patient engagement. Those same principles apply to our organization and its mission. Our experiences with large healthcare providers across the country are proving that by empowering patients with information about price, interacting with them to develop payment schedules they can afford and supporting them throughout their care journey, all of these objectives can be realized and more.
Consumers (patients) were already leaning toward digital engagement in every other realm of their daily lives before the pandemic. COVID-19 accelerated what might have taken years to develop, an enthusiastic appetite for digital engagement between patients and their healthcare providers.
The benefits to every stakeholder are astounding. For providers - evidence-based patient segmentation and personalization, patient self-service, reduced costs & improved efficiencies, better operating performance and market share growth. The benefits of digital patient engagement far exceed the costs.
For patients, personalized, easy to understand financial information and communications; the comfort of knowing what they’ll owe and how they’ll pay; reduced anxiety and improved care engagement to support better health outcomes. Patients will finally maintain some control over the financial dimension of their healthcare – and reward the healthcare provider that made it possible. Those that don’t will find themselves at a grave disadvantage in the post-COVID-19 healthcare marketplace.