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Top 8 Priorities for Health Execs in 2019


A survey of healthcare payers from North Highland offers four revealing findings about decision makers’ insights for the future.

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As healthcare payers assesses 2019 priorities, customer experience tops the list as the most essential strategic priority with data and analytics a close second.

According to the annual Beacon Industry Trends report from global consulting firm North Highland, healthcare leaders maintain positive sentiments for 2019, with 47% reported being excited, 37% energized, and 31% inspired. A quantitative survey of 100 cross-functional decision makers in healthcare payer organizations with an annual revenue of $1 billion+, the questions gauged leadership sentiment, priorities, and strategic planning focus for 2019.

“Managed care organizations are taking action to place value-based care into motion, versus talking about impact and planning,” says Roman Fry, healthcare principal North Highland, a worldwide consulting firm. “This is due to the belief that the ACA value-based principles are here to stay no matter what legislation tweaks or changes may be rolled-out in the future. This is combined with strong financial incentive that can be realized if value-based care programs are appropriately implemented and operated.”

According to the report, the top strategic priorities for healthcare executives are:

  • Customer-centricity/experience (84% level of priority). Only 17% of respondents felt “very prepared” to handle

  • Data and analytics (83% level of priority). Only 17% of respondents felt “very prepared” to handle

  • Organic Growth (81% level of priority)

  • Operational efficiency (80% level of priority): No respondents felt “very prepared” to handle

  • New market(s) penetration/growth (80% level of priority)

  • Product/service innovation (80% level of priority)

  • Talent acquisition (79% level of priority)

  • Health plan innovation (79% level of priority)

“Consumers are driving needed changes for managed care organizations,” Fry says. “Consumerism seen in other industries is no different than what we are seeing in healthcare. Consumers are demanding better access options, service, transparency, and efficiency. New entrants such as Oscar Health and the threat of Amazon and Google, responding to consumer needs with new models of patient/member engagement is forcing other managed care leaders to rapidly re-visit their business models and the experience they provide to consumers.”

Related: What Healthcare Executives Can Learn from Amazon's Leadership Principles

Preparation for data and analytics

Data and analytics in healthcare is not a new priority, according to Fry, however there is low confidence in preparedness for 2019.

“This is potentially due to the need for advanced data science that works hand-in-hand with advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence,” he says. “This is also the area where we see the gap in available talent and skill being the largest barrier to overcome. Top talent in the advanced data and analytics arena is hard to find for traditional managed care organizations, providing a unique advantage to new competitors that were data and tech first companies.”

With the rapid changes occurring, including record M&A transactions, organizations’ operational efficiency is severely impacted, according to Fry. “When companies are constantly transforming and integrating, there is not much time and effort available to optimize and streamline operations,” he says. “We feel this is the reason no respondent felt very prepared to handle.”

Cognitive solutions (e.g., AI) and blockchain were very low for leaders on the priority list, according to the report, but they have high confidence in preparedness.

“This may be due to the missing application of these technologies to business value,” Fry says. “We are seeing strong partnerships with vendors in this arena, signaling that these capabilities will continue to be outsourced with more of a reactive versus proactive approach.”

Based on the report findings, what are the top 3-4 takeaways for execs?

  • Look beyond the walls of traditional care. “Managed care organizations should seek to impact or be engaged in every part of the healthcare consumer lifecycle that includes financial experience, retail experience, and social services coordination,” Fry says. “This a holistic approach to the whole health’ of a consumer. Organizations should also consider opportunities both with providers as collaborators in the healthcare ecosystem, as well as other industries, in order to unlock new sources of product and service innovation.”

  • Extract new insights from data. “Companies like Amazon could take rapid market share because of their consumer engagement technology platforms, integrated supply chain, and advance data and cognitive capabilities,” Fry says. “Managed care organizations must find ways to aggressively differentiate or they will simply dwindle away. Using data in new ways will enable product and service innovation that will move the needle on customer-centricity.”

  • Bring IT to the front office. Automating interchanges and eliminating silos between functional teams enables leaders to design more customer-centric solutions and services, according to Fry. “Be very clear about the key outcomes the overall strategy is intended to accomplish and consistently focus on what drives the business forward,” he says.

  • Don’t forget employees and culture. “The key to executing any strategy is people,” Fry says. “With great talent in high demand, organizations must place emphasis on attracting and retaining talent often  through non-traditional methods. If an organization is not actively engaged in improving employee experience, it is no longer a risk but a real issue that should be addressed immediately, because other competitors may be investing to attract your best talent.”


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