Covid Accelerated Healthcare’s Digital Transformation—Here’s What’s Next
AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES
Dr. William Winkenwerder, a former healthcare CEO who also previously served as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, explains how the Covid pandemic accelerated digital transformations in healthcare and what happens next.
The past years have seen a boom in technology-enabled healthcare solutions—from telemedicine service connecting rural communities with world-class care to the proliferation of wearable devices helping Americans proactively monitor their exercise data and even irregular heart rhythms. The growing digitization of health has only been accelerated by the unique challenges of Covid-19, in which it became increasingly clear that we needed more solutions for a society that has shifted so significantly to the online realm.
From my vantage point, the exciting thing to consider is that we’re still in the early days when it comes to the transformation of healthcare. And there’s still a lot of runway for us to accelerate innovation and creative ways to use the tech at our disposal—much as we have already reshaped sectors like retail and media. In truth, the experience of visiting a doctor is still fairly close—in too many ways—to the way it felt at the beginning of the century. I doubt most of us can say the same about our experience shopping or consuming entertainment and news.
Here are a few key areas where I see enormous opportunity in the years ahead, including some central challenges we still need to take on.
Making Sure Data Works Across Different Platforms
Data has famously been called “the oil of the 21st century” for its central value in keeping our society humming along. It’s just as true in our hospitals and doctors’ offices, where data can provide unprecedented insights into health challenges facing patients. We’re collecting plenty of data—that’s not the problem. The challenge is in unifying and syncing this data across a Byzantine-like structure of platforms and systems, allowing it to be seamlessly accessed (without compromising privacy). A stunning amount of information still continues to be collected on paper, further contributing to the isolation of information across siloed systems.
A bipartisan consensus has long existed that more needs to be done to unify disparate data across health systems. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, in the Department of Health and Human Services, was created for this purpose during the George W. Bush administration. I worked with others at that time to help bring this important agency to life. But nearly two decades later, despite support from the Obama, Trump, and Biden administrations, we still see a patchwork of data systems across the sector. When providers have continuous access to better real-time information, it will be much easier to establish the potential risks for a patient or group of patients. That, in turn, will make it much easier for providers and insurers to coordinate care without getting into battles over whether something should be authorized or paid for.
Ensuring Access To Both Personalized And Affordable Care
More than a decade after the significant reforms introduced in the Affordable Care Act, ensuring widespread access to affordable care remains a challenge, including helping patients connect with the right doctors for their needs. We need nothing short of new digital infrastructure that can enable continuous, real-time relationships with medical providers—allowing you to retrieve information easily anytime you need it rather than waiting around for long periods of time for, say, an appointment. We see a path forward in examples like Crossover Health, a primary care-based, physician-led organization in California doing exciting work to optimize the consumer experience of the patient with an interdisciplinary team that assists with a wide range of connected services, from mental health services to wellness coaching.
Making Sure That People Can Get The Medicine They Need—And That They Take It
Affordability in healthcare is one of the most pressing economic problems we face today. While some of those cost structures are multilayered and complex to sort out, one area that we can tackle sooner rather than later is helping patients to save money on pharmaceuticals. It’s a key consideration in a country with a growing population of senior citizens. One recent innovation can be seen in the emergence of GoodRx, which helps patients with options for less expensive drugs at their local pharmacies through comparisons of prices and coupons. Innovative enterprises like GoodRx introduce the prospect of reform by way of new price pressures on the pharmaceutical industry and incentives to compete. The newly issued federal regulations requiring greater price transparency will further accelerate competition and choice for other services, including hospital care and diagnostic procedures.
Accelerating The Clinical Trial Process While Ensuring Safety And Effectiveness
Operation Warp Speed helped prove that public-private partnerships can work together in cutting through red tape and expediting the development and distribution of life-saving drugs. We shouldn’t have to wait for the next once-in-a-century pandemic to apply the same urgent approach to collecting, analyzing, and reevaluating research with the potential to save lives.
These are some of the areas that I see as most crucial to unleashing the next wave of advancements in medicine. The time for incremental progress and half measures must give way to a renewed urgency across sectors to finally tackle the soaring costs that Americans often pay for sluggish results.
What challenges do you see as most important to address? And how can we drive cross-cutting solutions to tackle more of these in one motion?
To my mind, integrating activities across the government and the private sector and coordinating our collective efforts are the keys to long-term success.