As the first large-scale, in-person healthcare conference to take place since the beginning of the pandemic, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) brought together 19,000 fully vaccinated Health Technology leaders focused on sustaining momentum as the industry undergoes a period of transformation.
In every conversation, albeit around data and algorithms, telehealth or interoperability, the same themes were clear: the need for greater collaboration, the importance of health equity, the acceleration of transformation caused by Covid-19 and the increasing consumer demands. Let’s dive into some of the key trends we observed.
WHILE COVID-19 HAS ACCELERATED ALL ASPECTS OF DIGITAL HEALTH, HEALTHCARE IS STILL NAVIGATING A PATH FORGED BY CONSUMER DEMAND
The pandemic has been the ultimate accelerator to force the type of collaboration between broken-down silos that the healthcare system desperately needed, especially compared to other consumer-centric industries like finance, travel and retail.
ALL ARE EAGER TO INTEGRATE ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (AI) AND MACHINE LEARNING (ML), BUT ALGORITHMS MUST BE APPLIED INTENTIONALLY
To no attendee’s surprise, AI and ML were the star of the show. However, as more data becomes available, stakeholders must be intentional about building algorithms to solve prevalent issues and implementing them in ways that mend the fractures in the ecosystem rather than widen them.
Running parallel to the discussions around the promising use cases was another important narrative: the need for oversight and regulation to ensure accuracy, reduce bias and increase transparency in an effort to protect patients.
THE FUTURE OF TELEHEALTH IN A HYBRID WORLD
While most systems saw a spike in telehealth at the beginning of the pandemic, demand has tapered off as in-person options return. Uncertainty behind reimbursements is driving hesitation, emphasized by the parity between payments for virtual vs. in-person visits.
For telehealth to have long-term success, there must be widespread connectivity with patient records, integration of remote monitoring and purely digital experiences, so that patients can access care in the same way they do any other type of consumer service online.
HEALTHCARE MUST TAKE A LESSON FROM AMAZON’S PLAYBOOK
There is a clear difference between ‘being’ digital and ‘doing’ digital. In defining a permanent digital-first strategy, systems apply a few key lessons from consumer leaders like Netflix and Amazon, including:
- Positioning a single leader to publicly oversee outcomes
- Prioritizing speed over consistency
- Frequently evaluating your business model to ensure it's enabling the best customer experience
- Ensuring every service drives to a digital endpoint and utilizes application programming interfaces (APIs) to enable interoperability
- Adopting an ongoing engagement strategy by building brand relevance with patients between visits
EQUITY AND THE NEED TO ADDRESS SOCIAL DETERMINANTS OF HEALTH (SDOH) IS A TOP PRIORITY
In recognizing the fragmented pieces of the healthcare system, a key theme continued to arise: the importance of building trust from the ground-up, and how the pandemic has broken down many of the walls that previously seemed impossible to scale.
Many often tout the benefits of aggregating big data, yet the danger lies within how this causes disparities within smaller groups to be overlooked. As the industry establishes how to address bias in algorithms, we must also evaluate the data to understand who is benefitting most and who is at a disadvantage, so that we can enable real-time changes.
MEDIA HAS GROWN TIRED OF THE BOY WHO CRIED ‘DISRUPTION’ – AND WANTS MORE FOCUS ON VALUE AND OUTCOMES
Reporters at prominent outlets, such as FierceHealthcare and CB Insights emphasized that many companies seeking coverage about a milestone or announcement over the past year were overly focused on touting their potential for industry disruption that they lost sight of what value they were bringing. Specifically, they urged companies to zero-in on the problem they are addressing and what they are doing to help the customer, with the support of real-world case studies.
THE DIGITAL HEALTH INVESTMENT BOOM WON’T STOP ANYTIME SOON – AND FUNDING IS CONTINUING TO GROW
As technologies become more advanced and systems begin to identify more applications, there are three core areas driving investments across the digital health ecosystem:
- Unified patient experiences
- Clinical workflow support
- Revenue cycle management
Meanwhile, there are also several emerging markets that are peaking interest of many VCs as the technology continues to advance, such as automation to support operations, integrations for SDOH and natural language processing (NLP).
While blockchain is all the buzz, a lack of compelling opportunities exist to replace systems that perform with a similar degree of security and efficiency. Areas such as provider directories, supply chain and therapeutics tracking have potential, but have yet to be proven in real-world case studies.
THE SHOW MUST GO-ON – BUT PROGRAMMING MUST BE FLEXIBLE WHILE PRIORITIZING ATTENDEE SAFETY
Ultimately, participation at HIMSS21 was strong despite concerns around the Delta variant: the sessions were full, the exhibit floor and after-hours events buzzing. Though Covid-19 has made people more cautious, it has not dampened the desire for genuine connection, exposure to new ideas or cross-industry collaboration.
Healthcare has never been more ripe for new types of digital innovation, but it will take collaboration unlike any the industry has ever seen to ensure it's accomplished in a meaningful, equitable and sustainable manner. As Regina Dugan, former head of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), so appropriately predicted last summer, “Sputnik set off the Space Age, COVID can spark the Health Age.”
Carley Grable is an Account Supervisor in Edelman’s Health team and is focused on Health Tech.
Edelman’s Health Tech practice is continuously monitoring trends in the space and is excited to continue working with organizations who are driving digital transformation during this critical inflection point. Please contact us at HealthTech@edelman.com to learn more.