Healthcare’s Time is Now to Take Operations Virtual

March 10, 2021
Kristin Ficery

Kristin Ficery, who leads Accenture’s North America Health, discusses recent Accenture research that discovered since the onset of COVID-19, 60% of patients want to use technology more for their healthcare. And nine out of 10 patients said quality of care was “as good or better” than before COVID-19.

As individual medical providers have become part of larger medical groups and health systems frequently centralized in larger cities, the personal touch has, whether we like to admit or not, often been lost. But now, because of the need to socially distance, house calls are back – virtually.

Think about it from a customer perspective: If you can bank, shop and work from home, why not handle healthcare needs from home too? And if you’re frail and sick, or live far from medical care, or if going to a doctor’s office adds significant stress, shouldn’t you be able to leverage technology to get care?

People are demanding the convenience. Accenture research found since the onset of COVID-19, 60% of patients want to use technology more for their healthcare. And nine out of 10 patients said quality of care was “as good or better” than before COVID-19.

So, we know that digital health is working — but equally important we know that patients are willing to shop around. During the pandemic we found nearly two-thirds of patients (64%) have been either likely—or highly likely—to switch to a new health system if their current providers fall short in terms of the availability of virtual care options, sanitary and safety protocols, and access to up-to-date information.

That makes embracing digital solutions for healthcare delivery a “must have,” not just a “nice to have.” The good news is the ability to connect more regularly with your patients has become far more realistic. Digital technology is inexpensive, available, and intuitive enough to make it happen.

Health Tech for the Long Haul
Why is cloud so important? It allows us to connect devices and systems in ways that will make the entire industry faster and more fluid. This allows us to leapfrog and provide a true long-term, comprehensive, holistic view of a patient’s health issues; giving clinicians opportunities to offer new capabilities for proactive and insightful patient care. With a full view of a patient’s medical needs, cloud helps us along the journey of shifting more to a health plus wellness approach to care, and away from episodic health treatment.

While adopting cloud may be the minimum, it doesn’t mean the industry is there yet. Healthcare executives know it’s important -- they most frequently cite the ability to launch applications faster, better security and greater agility as the top benefits of cloud. In fact, 44% of healthcare CIOs rank cloud services as a top-three investment priority. But right now, only half of healthcare organizations have mature cloud capabilities and tools in place.

Healthcare providers also need to connect with clients how and where they wish. We are working with several provider clients who want to re-imagine the process for scheduling, registration and even the patient appointment itself. Patients want healthcare facilities to mirror a hotel experience – with stellar service, impeccable cleanliness and most importantly a community feel that is integrated with their home and other amenities. This includes making appointments and sharing records digitally, meeting virtually, and using remote patient monitoring devices such as smart watches and apps, which help increase the frequency of care between visits. Much of this is not possible without cloud, which is why that is a crucial starting point. But unlike cloud, which is in the background, this is the part patients – who are customers – see. Get this wrong, and those willing to go to a new provider will defect.

Color Outside the Lines
Now is the time to think even more creatively and look to other industries to see how they are offering improved customer service for guidance on how we might be able to reinvent healthcare. Consider the Geek Squad at Best Buy – they have 20,000 agents globally who help people set up tech in their homes. Could healthcare provide similar service? This may involve pairing up with other industry partners to offer tech plus health support, but it could be an investment that yields dividends in long-term healthcare relationships.

We’re already seeing more healthcare services available in pharmacies, why not at community centers, pop-up tents and through mobile care delivery to reach patients in more remote areas? We’re working with one client to design a community-based hospital that reflects the idea of distributed healthcare it needs to be everywhere – in homes, in kiosks, in shopping centers, all around the community. These all need to seamlessly connect and meet patients wherever it is best for the patients – but it is the wave of the future.

Healthcare providers shouldn’t limit their thinking to what is standard in the industry now, but rather should expand it to the art of the possible, especially given the investor community is betting on the industry as a whole right – venture financing in health was up 66% in 2020, with a strong focus on digital health.

Now is the time for the industry to take charge of its own make-over. It can make more healthcare more personalized…but this time on a whole new level. The house calls my grandfather made become possible again because they become virtual. In a sense, what’s old is becoming new again in healthcare and that is very exciting.

Kristin Ficery leads Accenture’s North America Health practice serving the largest and most innovative health systems, physician organizations and payers in the U.S. and Canada. In 2020, her practice was named the leader in Healthcare consulting by Forbes and KLAS. Kristin also advises clients on financial, strategic and transformational initiatives.