Organizations that leverage technologies that can scale and operationalize digital health initiatives will be better positioned to provide positive outcomes for patients.
During the pandemic, digital health solutions became a lifeline as patients avoided in-person medical visits when possible. While most offices are open back to normal operating hours, when it comes to digital healthcare, there’s no going back to the way things were pre-pandemic.
Why? First, the digital health industry is expected to grow to over $550B by 2027, demonstrating significant support from the market.
As it is, our healthcare system cannot handle the number of patients due to several challenges, including the shortage of healthcare professionals (especially specialists and mental health providers) as well as lack of access to these specialties in dense urban and suburban areas. In rural areas, the situation is even more acute.
Digital healthcare provides greater access to these critical specialists and medical personnel at scale. Technologies like triage tools, scheduling and virtual visits, diagnostic toolkits, digital biomarkers, data management platforms, and remote patient monitoring tools will continue to proliferate, improving the overall impact to people, systems, processes, and healthcare markets.
Yet, despite all the benefits digital health solutions can offer, many large commercial healthcare providers are either lagging or cutting back on offerings as the pandemic wanes. Ultimately, healthcare providers who leverage technologies that can scale and operationalize digital health initiatives today will be much better positioned to provide positive outcomes for their patients.
Why haven’t digital health solutions successfully scaled since the start of the pandemic?
Despite the rapid growth of the digital health industry, the market remains complex and challenging. Many solutions often compliment, connect, overlap, and conflict with each other technically and operationally. At the same time, with digital health itself being relatively new as a concept, there is no single comprehensive software that addresses all virtual care use cases across the continuum.
With more than 1,000 digital health companies, progress is rapid, and outcomes are often difficult to prove. And while the challenges are many, with innovation comes diversity, complexity, and opportunity. Many of these new entrants will, unfortunately, fail. Oftentimes, this is not due to poor technology but instead challenges in managing a business in an increasingly competitive and often demanding, healthcare market.
So, who are the healthcare providers out there “getting it right?” The entities that focus not just on the digital health technologies, but also people, processes, and change management.
One government entity paving the way for digital health innovation is the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). For example, take VA Health Administration’s Innovation Ecosystem (VHA IE), which has demonstrated true thought leadership in digital health, providing a successful and replicable model for supporting the entire life cycle of innovation in a complex health ecosystem.
VA’s Office of Healthcare Innovation and Learning (OHIL) brings together VHA along with the Simulation Learning, Evaluation, Assessment, and Research Network (SimLEARN) and the Center for Care and Payment Innovation (CCPI) to advance healthcare delivery and service. Specifically, they focus on the discovery and spread of grassroots and strategic solutions across VA as well as promoting competencies in simulation and clinical simulation training.
3 steps healthcare providers can take now for more effective digital health solutions
How can today’s healthcare providers follow the example of VA and other change agents? Here are three essential steps to help get started.
- Establish strategic goals. Set clear objectives tied to organizational strategy and “metrics that matter.” These metrics include financial return to track ROI; user satisfaction to ensure better patient experiences; effectiveness in terms of operational improvements and clinical outcomes; and technical performance.
- Stratify patient population. Tailor programs to support specific patient populations. For example, VA focuses its various programs on several specific populations within its client base including women, patients with disabilities, and rural populations.
- Adopt an agile philosophy. Anticipate change. Programs evolve based on feedback and advancements in technology. Most importantly, work with experienced partners who understand the broader implications of introducing new technologies.
The path forward for healthcare providers
Digital health is here to stay. Yet, it will be especially challenging for healthcare providers to deliver a digital health experience that is seamless for both end users and care facilities. Aside from the market complexities alone, gaps in data, platform integration, and technical support can limit adoption and create holes in the healthcare continuum that hinder patient outcomes.
By focusing on establishing strategic goals, stratifying patient populations, and adopting an agile philosophy, healthcare providers stand a better chance to build more sustainable digital healthcare solutions and programs, not just focusing on the technologies but also people, processes, and organizational change and adoption.
Angie Stevens is chief strategy officer of healthcare, Iron Bow Healthcare Solutions, a digital health company.