COVID-19 has taken a catastrophic financial toll on health care providers, with an estimated $202.6 billion loss between March and June for hospitals alone. This precipitated a sectorwide downgrade by Moody’s and FitchRatings from stable to negative.
To make matters worse, this comes on the heels of a period during which many hospitals were already operating on razor-thin margins, especially in rural communities where nearly one in four face the risk of closure.
Innovation within this context may mean more shared-risk opportunities vs. traditional vendorbuyer relationships, notes Andy Shin, chief operating officer for the AHA’s Center for Health Innovation, in a recent blog.
Defensive tools that reduce operational expenses may get first priority over new value creation for most, but net new revenue opportunities outside of patient care may be an offensive strategy for others. Shin cites three categories that will be especially ripe for new entrants, innovators and collaborators when COVID-19 subsides, including:
Building a Bigger Digital Front Door
Before a vaccine becomes available during the recovery phase, a hospital’s digital front door may be one of the most important channels to instill consumer confidence by providing easy access to clinical guidelines and directing patients to the appropriate levels of care, including virtual options. Other use cases like zero-contact intake tools and virtual waiting rooms not only facilitate social distancing, but also reduce wait times to see a doctor.
Once in the rebuilding mode, more hospitals and health systems likely will invest in expanding their digital front door capabilities, looking to enhance artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled tools, increasing access to patients’ own data and integrating patient engagement solutions more fully across the enterprise to empower consumers and decrease administrative burden. The AHA Digital Pulse website, created in concert with AVIA, allows organizations to assess how effectively they have established a digital front door.
The Sharing Economy Comes to Health Care
While sharing-economy platforms exist for individuals who share homes, cars and landscaping equipment, there hasn’t been a similar effort in health care for a variety of reasons. Yet, COVID-19 has created acute needs at varying times for different parts of the country, lending itself well to sharing-economy innovations.
For example, health systems were recruited to offer spare ventilators to the Dynamic Ventilator Reserve, a federal government-AHA partnership virtual inventory, so that they could be loaned easily to hot spots where they are needed most. Moving forward, we may see a wave of new entrants partner and scale marketplaces or even exchanges that help locate and trade for scarce medical supplies.
Though COVID-19 is not solely responsible for widening the compassion divide, the opportunity to foster more of the human connection through technological channels will be an area of intense interest.
Facial recognition tools that provide instant feedback to clinicians on their demeanor via a computer screen can be effective in sending better body language signals or detect depression in patients — otherwise hidden in plain sight. AI tools that can assist families with difficult conversations about serious illness can help demystify what is still perceived by many as a taboo issue, Shin notes. Compassion tech could be the glue between health care and technology that we’ve been missing.