Editor's Note: The following article, about our Future Truth predictions for the healthcare industry, was originally published in the Oliver Wyman Health Innovation Journal, Volume 4.
The events of 2020 so far have catalyzed what we already knew we were capable of doing in healthcare. Symptom checks powered by artificial intelligence (AI) for COVID-19 have resulted in marked reductions in urgent care and emergency room (ED) visits. Virtual visits have entered the mainstream.
Patients are not the only ones who appear to welcome this change: Consumers seem to appreciate the ability to receive care where, when, and how they desire, as opposed to taking a half-day off work to see their doctor; likewise, clinicians and other healthcare workers appreciate the flexibility and efficiency that working from home affords them. Virtual and AI-powered care delivery not only means we need fewer exam rooms, fewer on-site staff, and less parking. It also means the work itself for doctors and nurses may look different and will require new ways of thinking about human capital planning.
Although new mindsets and new approaches don’t come in the same box the telehealth software came in, they will drive real value. We already see that heretofore near-impossible techniques – such as asking a patient via video chat to go into their medicine cabinet and show a doctor what pills they’re taking or opening the fridge to show their physician what foods they’re eating – are transforming care delivery.
As the work of care delivery is transformed, so too must the workforce – and achieving that is akin to solving a large, complex puzzle. Consider, for example, that labor costs typically represent approximately half of a hospital’s operating budget. Forward-thinking leaders are using the pandemic crisis to reconsider staffing models that address long-standing challenges related to physician burnout and staffing shortages.
But implementing more efficient and flexible staffing models is only part of the answer. At the same time, healthcare leaders must develop broader skillsets – both across leadership teams and throughout their greater organizations – in order for new ways of working to take hold. The need to collaborate across traditional boundaries – already a present challenge – will only increase as the technology available to assist in patient care becomes more sophisticated. Leaders who pivot their operating models will position themselves to make it through the current crisis while emerging in a stronger position to compete on talent compared to where they started.
As the work of care delivery is transformed, so too must the workforce.
Journeying From the Old World of Healthcare Delivery to the New World
Healthcare leaders recognize that in the post-pandemic world, connecting a clinician with a patient or a patient’s caregiver is only the first leg of the journey. The next stage, which we are already starting to experience, is to deliver better outcomes – enabled by changing the scope of what care people receive, where they receive it, when they receive it, and how. To achieve that, healthcare leaders must reimagine care delivery at its core. And, they must intentionally build the skills required to lead and sustain this slanted approach.
Healthcare’s Future is Here, and It Looks Different
Leaders are often too busy solving the problems of today with yesterday’s tools, failing to recognize that the promise of the future is right here, ready and waiting.
When a patient with congestive heart failure, for example, wants to consume less sodium, why not virtually open her fridge alongside her and explain why certain food items may be an unsound dietary decision that can be replaced with something similar, but healthier? Telehealth formats like this exist but are still fairly novel for most patients. Patients should think of telemedicine not merely as a way to “order” more medicine, as if the physician were a vending machine, but to consult with their doctor about their bigger medical concerns.
Now is the time to change our workforce actions and implications. But even with the ability to upgrade the very systems that have long plagued us, we remain stuck in an old and inefficient labor model. This is due in part to an executive focus on recruitment, rather than on changing culture and processes in ways that better realize the full benefits of new technologies.
As the healthcare industry and the world both become more virtual, home-based telehealth care models and in-home self-administered labs have seen marked recent growth. But shifting to these models is deceptively complex. Doing so requires a flexible workforce with new skills, staffed at different times and in different locations, with new supporting tools and infrastructure. This will not occur in isolation from the traditional operating model, which will see a reduction in its utilization and new expectations for flexibility and coordination with new models. That requires new hiring, training, and compensation approaches that don’t come in the same box the telehealth software came in.
New hiring, training, and compensation approaches don’t come in the same box the telehealth software came in.
Take the increased relevance of cybersecurity risks, for example. Over on the dark web, healthcare records sell for up to 20 times the price of credit card information. As the volume of tools and devices increases, a standard, repeatable approach is necessary to bring new technology into a healthcare ecosystem that provides both information and physical security across any location – while facilitating the user experience for expert care providers, at-home caregivers, and patients. The typical traditional health system organization lacks that capability. Leaders must ask: How can my team come together to keep consumers safe while making the most of what new technology can offer?
Healthcare Leaders’ New Perspective is Forward-Facing
Leadership teams that truly harness the value made available by technology, AI, increased appreciation for diversity, the increased desire for delivering and receiving remote care, and so on, will do three specific things differently compared to those who don’t. (And this shift will make all the difference.)
On the dark web, healthcare records sell for up to 20 times the price of credit card information.
First, those who harness this kind of value will respect, yet also welcome with open arms, the blurring lines among typically siloed functions that can do more by working together – such as information technology (IT), cybersecurity, building and facility security, and medical quality. There are practical ways to foster, and insist on, this type of collaboration. Share ideas and data transparently and broadly across the organization. Ask to see customer-focused analysis to support decisions. Encourage trials of new, cross-functional approaches. Be willing to take risks, so long as there is a mitigation plan in place from coordinated roles across the team. Defining and transparently reporting success metrics will help ensure stronger ownership and better execution. Above all, establish the norm that not every new effort needs to succeed and scale up on the very first attempt. An important focus is to innovate beyond traditional restrictions. Some ideas will require multiple revisions to work. Others will be shut down, with due credit given to applied efforts and learnings that can be carried into the future.
Second, those who harness this value will increase their ability to effectively lead and manage a workforce with diverse sets of skills and backgrounds. As a result, they’ll better serve their populations’ varied needs and expectations. Consider that inclusive leaders behave differently. They ensure the meetings they lead encompass a full range of perspectives. They actively talk about inclusion as part of their business-as-usual conversations. They give everyone in their orbit – including those in teams who don’t directly report to them – detailed and actionable feedback about how to improve and truly thrive. They challenge themselves to partner with new people over time – rather than defaulting to what’s comfortable or familiar. When an urgent piece of work comes up, they don’t automatically lean on the one person they feel most comfortable with. These kinds of behaviors – which are not necessarily innate, but rather skills that can intentionally be built and honed – bring new ideas, questions, and solutions to the forefront.
Third, apply the transformation mindset to the care provider experience as much as the patient experience. Physician burnout and overall well-being have plagued the industry for decades, and the tide won’t turn without deliberate effort. The care provider experience and feedback must be included as important metrics in any effort. If conducting video appointments from home allows a practitioner to avoid her commute time, she’ll gain back an average of an hour per day. Other key benefits of this workflow include better day-to-day job flexibility, more quality time (and also time in general) caring for patients, and a healthier overall work-life balance.
We are just starting to see the future of healthcare’s thriving workforce – and the future of those who best lead it – materialize. The promise of the future is right here, ready and waiting. Let’s seize it.