Five Ways Digitization Will Impact Healthcare in 2019

January 14, 2019

As the industry continues to look for strength in scale and strategic push toward ever-increasing verticalization, large-scale industry mergers and acquisitions will continue to be the norm during 2019-this and other 2019 predictions based on the digitization of healthcare.

Even though healthcare is notoriously resistant to change, we are now seeing the green shoots that signal U.S. healthcare is embracing digital transformation at an ever-faster pace-both in response to federal mandates as well as regional imperatives.

Digital initiatives deliver the best results when driven deep into a specific problem area and enacted as part of a cohesive change management program. More organizations are moving away from piecemeal technology to end-to-end process transformation. Innovation is best delivered locally, and that’s what we’re seeing all over the country-hospitals and physician offices experimenting iteratively to deliver measurable and sustainable results. Of course, we are only at the beginning of this journey.

So, where does the digitization of healthcare go from here?

Here are the top five predictions for what’s coming our way in 2019:

  • The rise of the chief customer experience officer. In line with the mantra “customer is king,” many Fortune 100 companies have started investing in a new role: the chief customer experience officer (CCEO). Healthcare organizations looking to pay more than lip service to the notion that they are patient-centric will begin to pattern customer experiences after those within consumer-centric industries like retail, travel and transportation. Expect to see more organizations recruit from outside healthcare to fill this important new role. The CCEO will focus on simplifying the patient/member interaction by realizing that one size does not fit all and that customer service is both an art and a science. The bottom line is that it’s not exceptional care unless the patient is delighted.

  • Digital technology will be packaged with an ROI. Savvy healthcare organizations are moving beyond the hype of digital technologies and focusing on measurable outcomes. Continued downward pressure on budgets and margins means that we’ll see strong investment in packaged solutions that embed technology to achieve rapid benefits in terms of clinical or financial outcomes. Few organizations have the budget or appetite to get embroiled in “science projects” and extended beta programs that have no clear ROI. Whether it’s cloud migration, machine learning and AI, voice technology, chatbots or robotic process automation, what matters most is not the technology, but delivering the outcome. Keep an eye out for more vendors promoting at-risk contracts around “outcomes as a service.”

  • Self-pay will shake up providers’ business model. Cash flow issues over the past couple years have exposed many providers as having insufficient focus on the self-pay portion of their revenue-the payment coming from patients themselves, rather than traditional payers. In some regions, self-pay has become the third-largest payer, right behind Medicare and Medicaid, and the industry needs proactive, customized, patient-friendly and convenient ways to deal with this critical revenue stream. Especially as millennials and Gen Z begin accessing healthcare in greater numbers, expect healthcare organizations to adopt a broad suite of optimized digital services that take the pain out of paying your bill.

  • Solutions will emerge to address physician burnout. With nearly 50% of doctors suffering from “burnout,” health systems are looking for ways to reduce bureaucratic tasks and technology fatigue. Many medical specialists feel overwhelmed when trying to juggle the needs of a busy practice, implementing and interacting with electronic health records systems and dealing with a seemingly ever-increasing number of performance metrics. Expect to see the use of medical scribes continue to increase, as well as the emergence of smarter voice-driven technologies (think Dr. Alexa) that help keep the focus on the patient and not on the keyboard.

  • Mega-mergers will drive renewed need for data and platform consolidation. As the industry continues to look for strength in scale and strategic push toward ever increasing verticalization, large-scale industry mergers and acquisitions will continue to be the norm during 2019. This will drive a focus on data standardization, data integration, data security, data archival, and unified desktop technologies that can stitch together disparate system workflows through a “single pane of glass.” These organizations will find it challenging to invest in parallel in integration and innovation, and will look to offload data archival and “keep the lights on” services to proven technology partners.

Change isn’t easy. In the midst of this exciting transformation, many organizations are struggling to keep up and facing competition from retail-like organizations pushing healthcare into a new world of patient consumerism. A methodical, well-enacted plan will help healthcare players view these shifts as mile markers on a longer road-one they can start walking down today. By taking heed of these coming trends and adopting a digital-first mindset, healthcare providers can continue on their journeys to improve experience and outcomes for patients, payers and providers. I’ll be traveling that road with our customers, and sharing both the risk and reward as we embark on the journey together.

Graham Hughes, MD, serves as the chief executive at Sutherland Healthcare, where he provides global leadership for operations, sales, management, and strategy. He is a physician with more than 30 years of U.S. and international experience leading teams in the development and delivery of innovative healthcare IT products and services.