But of course, technology is not a panacea: healthcare transformation has to go beyond the adoption of digital health technologies alone. All stakeholders – healthcare professionals, patients, providers, insurers, governments and the private sector – will also need to join forces and focus on the following factors to successfully transform healthcare:
1. Getting the required regulatory infrastructure in place. Transformation has been slow in a traditional industry like healthcare, with heavy regulation, complex governance structures, long decision-making processes and slow adoption of disruptive new tools. This is not surprising as, for example, big industry topics such as interoperability and secure data exchange – vital for broad telehealth adoption – are no easy feat. But as the COVID-19 pandemic triggered a forced trial for many of these issues, we saw a loosening of regulation with, for example, a waiver of originating site restrictions and federated exchanges of health information between systems.
One example was the launch of a national portal for digital exchange of COVID-19 patient data in the Netherlands. In a matter of weeks, major health institutions together with government and industry, created an online portal that allows Dutch hospitals to seamlessly share COVID-19 patient information with one another – 95% of Dutch hospitals have signed up to this portal since its launch. These types of decisive public-private partnerships will be paramount in the transformation of healthcare.
2. Factoring in training and education for the end-users. We need to ensure technologies are understood and successfully integrated into everyday practice. In the Future Health Index 2020 report, created just before the COVID-19 crisis, younger healthcare professionals indicated that they experience significant skills shortages in key areas such as handling stress, implementing new technologies and driving efficiencies. At the same time, younger healthcare professionals cite telehealth from healthcare professional to healthcare professional (23%) and also to patients (20%) as the digital technology that would most improve their work satisfaction. Both of these are also seen as among the most beneficial digital health technologies for improving patient care over the next five years. I’m quite sure that this crisis has shown just how much telehealth should be part of the medical training curriculum, not least to ensure the safety of doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals in times like these.
3. Getting the costs of healthcare down. Even before COVID-19, healthcare expenditure in the US was expected to rise at 5.4% per annum and at this pace would reach $6.2 trillion by 2028. This corresponds to almost 20% of GDP. Once we get back to a ‘new normal’ in healthcare, it is expected that healthcare payers (government, private payers and employers) will again aggressively try to reduce healthcare spending, with a focus on innovative payment models.
Value-based care (VBC) models have been developed to address these challenges. In these models, providers are reimbursed based on quality (or value) metrics, as opposed to the quantity (or volume) of services delivered. While in the short term the adoption of VBC models is expected to slow down to get through the crisis, in the longer term the future seems much brighter, with the current crisis speeding up the acceptance of telehealth and connected care. When strong, value-based population health management networks are in place, providers could become more resilient and more adaptable to potential future crises.