Much like my driveway at home, which appeared to be well-designed until last winter, COVID-19 exposed cracks in healthcare across the world.
Even though a drainpipe was installed via a grate in my driveway to run water downhill into a gully behind my house, unexpected construction and heavy rains caused silt to clog the pipe. When the winter snow melted, it flowed over the grate and froze overnight.
By this spring, the concrete in my driveway was riddled with cracks. Similarly, systems of care, which seemed to run smoothly before, faltered during the pandemic.
Across the healthcare industry, COVID-19 revealed a system entrenched in a static business model.
To discuss these challenges, I spoke with my colleague and the leader of our health strategy and innovation solutions, Dennis Butts.
As Dennis and I discussed, healthcare is fundamentally a low-margin business, and entering 2020, health systems struggled on many fronts.
Brick-and-mortar infrastructure focused on dedicated centers for orthopedic, cardiac, and other specialty care.
Organizations lacked robust telemedicine capabilities to maintain continuity of care, and for years viewed it as a threat to their business models.
With elective procedures on hold, finances and employee furloughs–despite overwhelmed intensive care units–threatened the viability of most organizations.
Health equity became even more critical during the pandemic as communities of color and other vulnerable populations were particularly negatively impacted.
Digital inequities exacerbated health and economic issues, with many people lacking adequate internet access to participate in virtual care.
Going forward, there are clear lessons to learn and things to do differently.
First, healthcare leaders must become more agile in their planning and operations. The horizon for healthcare initiatives has shifted from years to months.
Second, many people have deferred care and screenings, resulting in a “health debt.” Industry stakeholders need to make better use of data and analytics to understand diverse populations and minimize risks to compliant and accessible care.
Third, leaders should shift the focus from the size of their networks to their cohesion. Agility, flexibility, and quality depend on highly reliable participants working harmoniously.
Finally, evolving payment models that focus on value are the future. Healthcare leaders should shore up their balance sheets and position their organizations for long-term sustainability in value-based payment.
The ability to come out of a year unlike most has given the industry an opportunity to look deeper at the cracks.
Our lessons learned have given us the blueprint to take on the challenges that can move healthcare forward for everyone involved–providers, payers, and patients.