How 2020 Changed Healthcare for 2021 - Cover

How 2020 Changed Healthcare for 2021

As many people start to look forward to returning to some kind of normal, it’s tempting to try and forget 2020. However, as hard as it is to focus on one of the more difficult years many of us can remember, I think it’s important to take time to learn from some of 2020’s hard-taught lessons.

It should be no surprise that 2020 focused on transitioning to provide care remotely. While there was an amazing effort to continue to care for patients, this rapid expansion of remote care definitely means health systems will have to focus on refinement and process improvement in 2021.

2020 Innovations and Ideas for Improvement

Health systems across the nation adapted to 2020 with some very necessary innovations. When it comes to healthcare in 2021 and what it means to improve processes, these thoughts come to mind:

  • Improving the delivery of a remote experience. Health systems are trying not to lose patients in this shift to digital and virtual healthcare. Many patients, particularly those who need chronic care, will still need improvements to how their care is delivered in a remote world.
  • Turning cars into waiting rooms. Within my own family care, we’ve seen local clinics adopt some clever adjustments in 2020. Our pediatrician had us wait in our car until the exam room was ready, and then sent us right in. Waiting with the AC on and with some tunes was almost preferable to lounging in the waiting room with elevator music.
  • Optimizing by patient experience. Currently, remote workflows mirror the in-person workflows. This feels like a huge opportunity for innovation. Which touchpoints are actually better in a virtual experience? Which succeed in person? Having both live and virtual tools in the physicians’ tool belt could become a major improvement for the post-pandemic future. We just haven’t had time to make much progress on that.
  • Broadening the effort as we shift back. I think that leading health systems are absolutely working on how to best combine virtual and in-person workflows to deliver the best outcomes, but KLAS has seen this movement mostly in pockets. It has yet to become a broad effort. I expect that will change as health systems shift from “survive” to “thrive” again.

Even More Shifts in RCM

The provider organization leaders we’ve talked to want to shift into enterprise-wide revenue cycle management solutions. In response, more vendors are pitching that they can do just that! Several have begun acquiring assets to make that vision real, including Change, Optum, and Waystar. 

The problem is that every piece of the process is measured on the revenue cycle side. You can’t move to a mediocre patient access solution or a so-so claims tool. Organizations would notice the difference almost immediately. There is a big need to prove that these enterprise revenue cycle solutions can hit the target.

Aside from the shift to enterprise systems, the healthcare industry also needs to break down the friction between payers and providers. This is an increasingly critical issue in the future success of US healthcare. The costs have always been high, but I am optimistic that attention seems to be shifting toward real solutions. Both payers and providers are pioneering efforts to bypass traditional choke points and manual efforts.

Finally, robotic process automation (RPA) is a huge trend that is gaining traction in health technology. Our latest report takes a deeper look at several early leaders in RPA and how well they meet their clients’ needs. 

Vaccination Efforts

It is important to note how much bandwidth vaccinations are taking in terms of executive brain power. We haven’t seen much by way of a national plan, so many health systems have been left to figure out how to make the vaccination supply they’ve received have the greatest impact. So far, vaccination efforts have been the battle of 2021. 

CMS delayed certain reporting measures in 2020 to support the clinicians responding to COVID-19. Given this current push on vaccination, it would still be an odd time to lay those reporting measures on health systems. We all pictured that we would be closer to having things back to normal at this point. For most health systems, things are anything but back to normal.

Is 2021 the Year of Healthcare Data Mining? 
 HCA recently announced a partnership with AHRQ and other organizations to share its clinical data registry on COVID-19 with plans to use data for future studies and clinical trials. Some of the larger EHR vendors are also combing through their combined research to share COVID-19 insights. As 2021 goes on, we will continue to see more of these efforts and more pressure to join forces.

As part of those efforts, our COVID-19 research at the beginning of the pandemic showed that some of the biggest needs were for virtual care, of course, but also for better AI and analytics. If data mining is to become a useful source of information, more AI and analytics vendors will need to step up their game.

Interoperability also remains critical for so many reasons. As we’ve seen, it’s not enough to only know whether you have ICU beds open in your facility; you also need to know where beds are open in the whole community. More than ever, disparate systems need to talk to each other. Our most recent report shows that interoperability between EHRs has doubled in the past three years, but now we need that for many other areas, like capacity management.

Ultimately, 2020 may be remembered most for the chaos and heartache it brought. However, I am encouraged that many vendors seem to be doing a good job supporting their healthcare customers through this crisis. We can look to these silver linings of the year and be hopeful that some of our necessity-driven innovations stick around for the long haul.

Photo credit: H_Ko, Adobe Stock