Five tech trends transforming healthcare

AHIP 2017: Kaveh Savafi, MD, of Accenture, tells Managed Healthcare Executive about the biggest digital trends and their impact on healthcare.

In his session at America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) Institute & Expo 2017 Institute & Expo, in Austin, Texas, Kaveh Savafi, MD, senior managing director for the health industry at consulting firm Accenture, discussed some of the biggest technology trends that are happening in the business world and drawing relevance to the world of healthcare.

Here, Safavi discusses his talk, “Technology for People: The Era of the Intelligence Digital Health Enterprise.”

Managed Healthcare Executive (MHE): Discuss some of the trends you’re tracking for healthcare.

Safavi: The first trend is “AI is the new UI,” where AI means artificial intelligence and UI stands for user interface. That’s the concept of the actual experience-or the way that people interact with technology itself-is going to become smarter.

“Ecosystem powerplace” is the next trend we’re paying attention to. That means it’s really becoming clear that the amount of technology being used in healthcare today can never come from a single entity or company. Thus, it’s likely that people are going to work with technology platforms that are created with parts from multiple different companies and the companies themselves are going to have to figure out how to cooperate.

The third trend is what we call “The workforce marketplace,” which broadly refers to the fact that the distributed workforce-and the ability to go out and find people you need to do work-is no longer going to be limited to the traditional marketplace of your own employees. This is an extension of what’s been talked about for a long time, but this is describing the technology as making it inevitable that the workforce you seek will come from different places than you normally would find them.

“Design for humans” is the fourth trend. That’s essentially the recognition that technology has to be designed to fit the way that humans live their lives-as opposed to making people fit the technology. There are obviously healthcare examples, but in other cases there are lots of examples of where the technology has found its way much more easily into the way that you do work-as opposed to you having to go figure it out.

The last one is a topic that we call “The uncharted.” By that, we mean that the technology is creating business and regulatory challenges-and maybe ethical and social challenges-that we have no concept of; other than that we know that we’re opening up “Pandora’s box.” We’re going to see more and more that organizations are going to have to get together and think about how they want to address some of these unintended consequences-or even the necessary frameworks they’re going to need-in order to be able to take full advantage of the technology.

MHE: Tell me more about what you’re referring to with “The uncharted.”

Safavi: These issues go from very simple things-such as standard setting around blockchain, all the way to what’s the responsible use for real artificial intelligence.

MHE: Make the connection for healthcare with “The workforce marketplace.”

Safavi: It ranges from clinical to non-clinical, and it’s all different parts of the business. We use a term called “the liquid workforce,” which is present everywhere. We did some surveys that showed that 71% of healthcare executives report that they’re already using on-demand labor platforms. That could be to a limited extent, but it’s not totally foreign in healthcare. And 80% said that they have to re-think their business model based on these types of technologies.

We see this on the delivery system side and on the provider side. You see examples of this with radiologists and pathologists and with home-based nursing. On the health plan side, you’re starting to see nurses in utilization management; they’re call center employees. Other organizations have done the same thing; they’re gone to a distributed call center model.

You generally see people go to a liquid workforce in areas where you’re looking for a highly-specialized skill or a very generalizable skill.

What’s complicated is the fact that, while this is going on, the artificial intelligence trend is going on. That’s where automation and artificial intelligence are being substituted for a certain amount of labor. And that impacts the nature of the work of your own workforce.

For example, say you have an employed workforce and they show up at your facility. The step may not be that we’re going to have a model where we can work with independent contractors and we can take them wherever they’re located, to a technology is going to replace a big part of what they do. Then the remaining people are going to have a very differentiated skill set.

There’s an ebb and flow here, in terms of how this works. The technology allows you to distribute your labor. At the same time, the technology begins to complement the labor in a different way.

MHE: What’s challenging about this particular trend?

Safavi: This will be a challenging trend to manage. That’s based on the pace of the technology replacing the work that people do. You’ll see this in call centers and customer service on the payer side. On the provider side, you’ll see this with medical case management or utilization management, where nurse managers will be doing some of this work.

Some subset of nurse managers’ work is actually relatively routine. That’s information intake or the proving routine medical advice. Still another part of their work requires clinical judgment. We’re already beginning to develop alternatives that can be a substitute for some part of these experts’ labor. That means the nurse managers spend all of their time doing the things for which they’re licensed. The things they’re not licensed for get done by a machine.

Thus, you’re going to be looking for a higher-level of skill. Not only will this be a distributed workforce, but it will also be a higher-skilled workforce.