SDLC Partners and ThoughtForm share their take and tips on these digital transformation trends.

The pandemic has accelerated the use of telemedicine and virtual care but also the evolution of the entire digital healthcare consumer journey. A post-pandemic healthcare continuum will include care solutions such as virtual, digital, retail, and in-person along with increased in-home care. Simultaneously, healthcare digitization is quickening alongside the digital transformation of all areas from back-office to patient-facing.

Despite a threefold increase in patients using virtual care in 2020, few healthcare consumers are satisfied with the quality of care or experience they receive.

“Only 19% of Americans are “very satisfied” with the quality of medical care in the U.S.”

Gallup 2020 Survey

How will you create seamless healthcare experiences across all points of care and communication to build convenience, trust, and loyalty?

SDLC Partners has joined with strategy and design firm ThoughtForm to address digital healthcare projects in a new way: by weaving together the strands of strategy, technology, and culture from the beginning, using design thinking as a catalyst.

Our teams recently came together to deliberate three significant trends affecting health plans, provider organizations, pharma, and healthcare technology companies.

When you strategize the path toward your 2021 goals and beyond, we invite you to consider the following three trends, our perspective on their importance, and our advice on positioning your department, business unit, or service line.

Healthcare - integrating digital and traditional care delivery

Trend #1:
Explosion in blended healthcare models, integrating digital and traditional care delivery

The future lies where digital care intersects (and integrates) with physical care—witness telehealth’s sevenfold growth rate anticipated by 2025. Many organizations are rethinking the idea that patient care starts with face-to-face interactions and are taking a digital-first stance. Marketing and financial officers are completely rethinking how they engage consumers, conduct work, and deliver care through a blended model.

  • 83% of healthcare CFOs say that consumer engagement is an increased priority for their organization after the pandemic
  • 78% of those CFOs are increasing capital spending on digital technologies, shifting resources to support virtual capabilities and experiences versus brick-and-mortar
  • Moving ahead, care delivery will become more blended among channels like in-person, remote, in-home, virtual, taking on a blended model.

What’s our take on this trend?

  • Consumers and providers have been forced to adapt to telehealth (both video and telephonic) in large numbers during the pandemic as a way to reduce risk versus in-person care. This acceptance of the technology now represents a hurdle cleared.
  • Health systems and payers quickly spun up remote monitoring and video capabilities, enhancing collaboration with complex patients and capturing greater efficiency than traditional brick-and-mortar care delivery.
  • The future of blended care models across delivery channels will require a hard look at technology, operational processes, people, and experience to ensure a seamless overall system of care. Mapping the consumer journey, the touchpoints, and technical and experiential requirements will be mandatory for success.

What’s our advice to healthcare organizations?

  • Set as your primary goal not to perfect digital experiences, but to optimize your blended model. Maintain that broad perspective.
  • Understand your “why” and aim to deliver the right services to the right patient via the right channel — whether they are digital or traditional.
  • Embrace innovation, but recognize that there is a nuanced range of useful innovation from disruptive to incremental.
  • Apply design thinking to view services through both a patient and a provider lens. This allows the best solutions to bloom in a user-centered culture of collaboration and delivers the expected ROI.
  • Reward agility and flexibility in care delivery. Allowing workarounds and empowering providers to problem-solve will help maintain a positive experience and an efficient workflow during times of change.
  • New models require a cultural adaptation process in order to take root. An organization that helps teams adapt can accelerate past competitors and market disrupters.
Healthcare - digitization and automation

Trend #2:
Optimizing healthcare processes through digitization and automation

Gartner’s 2020 Hype Cycle for U.S. Healthcare Payers stresses that digitalization is an urgent survival imperative. According to Forbes, “…COVID-19 has put patients back in the middle of their care and forced organizations to streamline services and find innovative solutions.”

While many healthcare organizations were on a digital transformation journey before COVID-19 hit, the pandemic has highlighted the need to prioritize operational efficiency and streamline services and processes while preserving patients’, providers’, and employees’ quality of experiences. Tools like chatbots, robotic process automation (RPA), and algorithm-enabled diagnostics can free up healthcare organizations to allocate resources for emerging needs.

Anurag Gupta, research vice president at Gartner, shares, “The money that RPA saves by not having to spend as much on an unreformed process translates into cash that is available for front-end clinical functions, which is especially important while healthcare organizations combat the COVID-19 crisis.”

These shifts, however, require significant procedural and experiential changes.

 What’s our take on this trend?

  • Optimizing operational processes is about much more than cost savings. It’s about higher quality and operational consistency that yield better outputs, outcomes, and consumer and clinician experiences. A major benefit? Releasing capacity that fuels growth.
  • Uber-type disruptors like Iora Health in primary care and Oscar health insurance are raising the stakes. These first movers enjoy the advantage of a sleek digital model built from a clean slate with fewer legacy constraints.
  • As employers take more control and create direct relationships with providers and payers, these new arrangements should be built on a digital-first or automation-first approach, balancing between excellent consumer experiences and maximizing operational efficiencies.
  • Organizations that can integrate digital and automated processes while preserving the quality of experience for patients, providers, and employees will reap enormous rewards and market strength.

Adopt the mantra, “Plan holistically—implement iteratively.” A broad, tangible vision combined with quick, visible wins will carry you forward.

What’s our advice to healthcare organizations?

  • Don’t wait for an Uber or Amazon to force your organization to change. If you aren’t already doing so, view the healthcare experience you deliver as being ripe for large-scale transformation.
  • Adopt the mantra, “Plan holistically—implement iteratively.” A broad, tangible vision combined with quick, visible wins will carry you forward.
  • To counter the advantage of disruptors, leverage the deep wells of institutional wisdom that they lack. Involve on-the-ground teams closely in visioning, planning, and implementing new systems.
  • Visibly connect internal initiatives to your “why” and to your growth, service, and operational plans—ensuring that every employee sees themselves in this picture.
  • Organizations tend to approach cost reduction and growth as one goal.  Those that explicitly allocate time to each can achieve more, faster.
  • Don your systems thinking hat and pay attention to the interrelationships and interfaces among people, process, systems, and data.  Leveraging small interventions can help you scale more easily. 
  • Understand your readiness for advanced intelligent automation and apply it judiciously. Know where and when to automate fully, when to retain a human element or where to blend human workforce with robotic automation. Search for the simplest tools that will accomplish your purpose.
Healthcare - digital channels

Trend #3:
Creating a welcoming entry to digital channels so that patients, providers, and employees can fully engage and gain the benefit of these tools

A recent webinar focused on digital engagement highlighted the need to step back and look at digital transformation from a new perspective. Quoting one participant, “Hospitals and health systems that want to make the most of their digital transformation should focus on leveraging technology for an attractive digital front door, engaging patients and building loyalty, efficient access to care, and using data for care coordination.”

Companies across the spectrum are now adopting the best consumer digital experiences as benchmarks. Autodesk CIO, Prakash Kota, currently implementing an employee hub partially modeled on Netflix, says that switching between a consumer app and a work website shouldn’t “feel like it’s so drastic.”

Meanwhile, healthcare lags behind. A survey in August 2020 found that 50% of patients said poor digital care gave them a negative perception of the experience.

The key to success is balancing technology and human values with new blended care models while aligning operational, clinical, IT, and employer stakeholders.

What’s our take on this trend?

  • The friction patients encounter is already enormous — in everything from choosing the best health plan for their needs to finding a provider to obtaining pre-authorizations when needed, and settling bills post-care. 
  • Consumer digital experiences outside healthcare set a high bar that can leave healthcare digital experiences to suffer by comparison. Yet the stakes for consumers are higher in healthcare; that should earn engagement if the experience barriers can be broken.
  • The smartphone-wielding patient is almost ubiquitous. While some may be more digitally savvy than others, we are very nearly at the point where universal digital connectivity can be assumed.
  • Today’s digital experience is only a prelude to a transformational future: robotic weigh-ins, pre-visit diagnostics powered by AI, sensors linked to behavioral incentives, predictive algorithms that define preventative care, and much more.

What’s our advice to healthcare organizations?

  • From a user perspective, digital healthcare experiences largely miss the mark. Success will demand radically different thinking. Be bold. Seek innovation from internal and external sources and recognize that incremental improvement may no longer be enough.
  • Map out all of your user journeys: consumers, business customers, employees, clinicians.  They all suffer from digital experience challenges and tech burdens.
  • Bring a relentless focus to what users want: intelligently simple interfaces, personalized content that anticipates their needs, streamlined “one and done” workflows—all delivered with touches of humanity, beauty, and humor. At the same time, watch out for experience killers like click fatigue, poor exception handling, and unintended consequences.
  • Learn from the past: Deming’s Quality Circles method and its descendants involve users in the process. They know the problems. Sometimes they may have solutions too.
  • Watch closely as tech giants, innovative startups, and pioneering provider-payer organizations, like Highmark, invest in new approaches. Like any innovator, they’ll make missteps, but the digital experiences they create are likely to set new standards. 

How should your post-pandemic digital transformation look

These trends, and the observations we’ve shared, merely scratch the surface of all that’s happening in healthcare. We want to explore what they could mean to your organization.

SDLC Partners and ThoughtForm have created a strategic partnership to help all healthcare organizations develop services, technologies, processes, and experiences more rapidly and with a better fit for both consumers and the enterprise.

Together, we offer a new and powerful approach to executing and delivering innovation that addresses three paths at once: strategy, technology, and culture—all powered by design thinking.

We can help you Achieve Real Results

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