Industry Voices—6 ways of reimagining healthcare in the wake of COVID-19

The impact of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic has yet to be fully realized, but it is already clear that our health system will be irrevocably changed in ways we could not have imagined only six months ago.

It may seem counterintuitive, but the devastation of this novel coronavirus is causing us to reimagine and redesign our nation’s health systems with new strategies that will improve the patient experience and safety, make our processes more efficient and also improve our outcomes.

The new reality

We are already experiencing the drivers of potential change.

Consumers have a newly heightened anxiety about their own health and that of the entire population, which creates deep concern about safely accessing care. These fears have sparked an extremely rapid uptake of virtual healthcare delivery such as telemedicine visits and mobile apps that enhance patient care. As of late May, 13% of Americans had used telehealth for the first time for their physical health and 6% for mental health needs.

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Spurred by the crisis, payers and government too have quickly embraced virtual care delivery, providing reimbursement for these services at an unprecedented extent.

Hospitals and health systems have an essential and outsized role in supporting consumers’ physical and psychological recovery from the pandemic’s trauma. These organizations have already fully overhauled infection control practices to ensure safe environments for patients and staff and to help rebuild public confidence. They are learning that safety is more vital than ever in developing a competitive edge by designing a reassuringly safe and secure patient experience.

We are also seeing an unprecedented and long-overdue focus on community health monitoring to ensure that workplaces, stores and other high-traffic indoor areas are safe for the public.

Innovations to reshape healthcare itself

The public wants major change: 59% think our healthcare system should be reinvented. We must thoughtfully consider appropriate changes to our business models while adhering to our guiding principles of improving quality, enhancing access to health and healthcare services and lowering costs.

Another fundamental change being hastened by the pandemic is the importance of super-regional health systems.

A larger scale brings benefits to consumers everywhere through advanced services they might not otherwise be able to access. Yet delivery of healthcare will remain primarily local and regional. Just as COVID-19’s impact varies regionally, so do other health needs, and local and regional physicians and health systems know their communities best.  Super-regional systems are positioned well to realize the benefits of both scale and local delivery, while also serving as critical economic engines and sources of employment for their states.

We will see, and in fact are already seeing, the greatest changes in the everyday experience of healthcare—reinventing care delivery through technology enhancements and consumer behavior shifts:

  1. We will continue to accelerate the digitization of our business and service delivery. As often as possible, we will provide a touchless experience. Health systems will be able to combine in-person and virtual encounters to maximize local capacity, reduce consumer wait times and improve efficiency and convenience.
  2. Consumers will increasingly find providers and schedule care online. Banner’s website has seen an astounding 135% increase in “Find a Doctor” visits, more than half by new patients.
  3. Digital waiting rooms will enhance the touchless experience. Patients will complete pre-visit paperwork in the comfort of their home, eliminating countless physical touchpoints like pens, clipboards and digital tablets. Technology will enable smoother management of provider delays, using digital check-in and other solutions to streamline processes and dramatically reduce wait times.
  4. Discharge instructions and other follow-up care directions will be provided online, avoiding further physical touchpoints. Test results and billing, too, will all be handled online.
  5. Remote therapeutics—like Banner’s partnership with BabyScripts as a solution for prenatal care—and remote monitoring of chronic conditions, like diabetes, will enable at-home health and wellness, putting more information in consumers’ hands and connecting them more closely to their physicians through personalized portals and apps.
  6. As more care is delivered remotely, super-regional health systems will be able to load-balance across hospitals, ambulatory and post-acute networks, clinics and physician practices. Locations experiencing lower volumes can relieve some of the demand on overused locations through telehealth and other remote care options.

Benefits to consumers

Another important takeaway of COVID-19 will be the importance of reactivating our health systems by focusing on safety and customer experience to ensure that we are tailoring offerings and messages to meet the needs of those that we serve. Banner is the first U.S. health system with a single systemwide database—3.2 million records that include the date of every patient’s last visit, allowing follow-up reminders and personalized messaging. This has been critical to our ability to help our patients navigate the current crisis.

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At Banner, we also utilize a “safety seal”—a way to put our promise of safety into practice. When customers see the Banner safety seal, they know that at that site we have instituted specific safety measures to protect them and ensure they have an outstanding visit. We are also focusing on getting health information to our customers through digital channels as well as interacting and distributing health and safety information through social media channels. More broadly, the potential exists for better outcomes if digital care options encourage consumers to seek care more regularly and share their day-to-day health information with their physician.

We have the ability to engage individuals in actively managing their own healthcare, and the public is supportive of this change. Monitoring customer sentiment is critical in rebuilding and repositioning healthcare delivery. We represent a source of truth in terms of healthcare in the communities we serve. Whether it is getting the clinical facts to broad populations or sending reminders to schedule regular exams, health systems are essential community citizens and resources. 

In the midst of tragedy, it is obviously difficult to see the potential positives. Yet, as is the case with almost every crisis, it will eventually bring about improvements that benefit us all, with greater safety and efficiency, more regular care and more personalized access channels to ensure healthier lives.

Scott Nordlund is chief strategy and growth officer for Phoenix-based Banner Health.