One constant in healthcare has always been change — increased consolidation of care delivery organizations, the nation’s shifting demographics, changing expectations among patients and a changing landscape of federal and state regulations among the always influx factors. And now, at what can feel like breakneck speed, healthcare executives must evolve to help the organizations they lead thrive within a quickly changing world and the resulting challenging-to-manage financial landscape.
During a June 23 virtual event presented by Allscripts and Modern Healthcare Custom Media, Ipsita Smolinski, Managing Partner of Capitol Street Research and Senior Strategic Adviser at McAllister & Quinn, and Richard Mulry, President and CEO of Northwell Holdings and Ventures, offered insights into and guidance specific to strategic planning in healthcare looking ahead to the next several years.
Specifically, they discussed what healthcare leaders might expect as far as impactful policy from the Biden administration, the key trend of consumerism and its likely effects on hospitals and physician practices, and what the innovation trendlines are forecasting for healthcare delivery.
Smolinski explained that the healthcare industry is in “a bit of a waiting game” as the Biden administration and Congress continue hashing out issues that will impact the country. Now that President Biden’s healthcare leadership team is confirmed, however, there are a number of priorities that will shape the industry moving forward, one of the most pressing of which is price transparency. “A desire for and expectation of increased price transparency is becoming widespread, especially with so many Americans having high-deductible plans,” Smolinski said.
“Patients want to know how much their MRI might be at the community hospital versus the one across town.”
A reckoning regarding the many effects of health inequities and the impact of social determinants of health is expected to have a significant influence on federal policy and shape upcoming innovations in healthcare, in addition to continued attempts to move to value-based payments, investment in freestanding medical centers, changing physician employment trends and adjustments to both Medicare and Medicaid coverage.
Mulry noted that Northwell has determined that it is beneficial for healthcare delivery organizations to invest in emerging innovations, but that doesn’t mean all the best ideas come solely from brand new companies. “Northwell has invested in creating a culture of innovation, and we encourage our own employees to submit novel ideas and solutions. In addition, there are opportunities for employees to share financially if an idea moves forward, and we see growing success with that,” Mulry said. “The people on the front lines know more than anyone what need is out there. And when we’re looking for investment or partnership opportunities outside of Northwell, we are leaning towards more mature products and companies which allows for the best use of resources and supports speed to market. The sophistication and experience of a startup’s management team, as well as its clinical advisory groups, have become increasingly important.”
Digital health and telemedicine platforms are still in early stages and demonstrating rapid evolution, despite their emergence as critical tools during the pandemic, Mulry said. “What we see emerging out of telehealth is its integration into digital solutions—it’s no longer going to be perceived as a wraparound or an add-on service.”
“People want the ease of care, ease of access and they want to have easy navigation—those are major priorities in these integrated digital health solutions, and that is supported by telemedicine,” he added.
Mulry acknowledged that it is a challenge to adjust to recent trends that have moved beyond the paradigm of traditional healthcare. “There’s a generation of patients that are more comfortable texting a problem, sending a picture, receiving a diagnosis via email and then deciding if they want to go on camera. Health systems continually need to adjust to what patients are asking for,” he said.
The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation appears poised to make some bold moves, particularly related to projects around primary care and smaller ambulatory practices, according to Smolinski, as well as revisiting the question of mandatory innovation pilots. “The last administration moved away from mandatory programs, but there are signs that the CMMI will be going back to that,” she said. “There have been bold statements coming from CMMI leadership about what it might take to re-energize the shift to value-based payment models. That is definitely something to keep an eye on.”
While healthcare-specific policy will impact the work of healthcare organizations and innovators, both Mulry and Smolinski agreed that the industry will also be shaped by other significant shifts, including climate change and renewed attention toward the nation’s infrastructure.
As leaders consider where to invest time and resources, they should prioritize pragmatic innovations. “We review our investments with a very careful eye towards solving problems,” Mulry said. “We firmly believe in the digital solutions that are coming out of that improved workflow process, either clinical or business, and are investing in those that can improve care and relieve administrative burden.”
Smolinski agreed, noting that the future lies in providers’ ability to care for more patients, given the aging population in the United States, at a lower cost. “Investing in these lower costs of care—including maximizing providers’ licensing authority and expanding care in settings like urgent care and surgery centers—we’re going to continue to see that. I think you’re going to see hospitals invest more in rehab and treatment to fully maximize the potential from the full continuum of care."