Cynthia Church, Chief Strategy Officer
With the end of every year comes the prediction parade. I’m usually hesitant to add to them (what do I know?) but this year feels a bit different, for all the obvious reasons. Is digital health finally turning the corner? Is it moving beyond pilots and trials, and becoming a legitimate option to boost efficiency, patient outcomes, and revenue with a comprehensive digital health strategy?
At Xealth we have seen some welcome shifts this year, and expect to see more next year. However, before making any moves, you might want to take stock of where the industry is currently and, more importantly, where it’s headed to stay ahead of the competition.
While traveling the fall conference circuit – in person! – in 2022, I noticed a few trends impacting health systems, payors, employers, and patients, so I am offering these themes about how a robust digital health platform can be an essential part of care delivery in 2023.
Looking forward to 2023 (and likely beyond): Prepare for these 8 digital health trends
Continuing patient expectations that they’ll always have access to virtual care
All 2023 digital health trends have a common denominator—patients are consumers and expect convenience. They use technology on their phones to manage virtually every other aspect of their lives—traveling, shopping, banking, communicating with their loved ones—so why should healthcare be any different?
During the pandemic, your patients have grown accustomed to virtual care’s convenience and immediate gratification, and will continue to seek out those experiences. If they can’t get it from their health system or primary care doctor, they’ll look elsewhere.
Using digital tools to combat staffing shortages.
Many health systems believed staff would stick around after the stress of the pandemic; however, they’re not, leading to an unprecedented staffing shortage. To add fuel to the fire, the staff who did return are experiencing massive levels of burnout.
To combat the staffing shortages and burn out, many health systems will look at automation and implement digital health tools to relieve pressure on frontline staff while also meeting the needs and expectations of patients
Managing low acuity conditions with virtual care.
Virtual care models will gain traction for low acuity conditions.
For example, if a patient knows they have tonsillitis, they won’t want to go through the hoops of scheduling an in-person appointment and waiting to see their care team. They want the fast and efficient treatment they know they can receive with a virtual visit, from wherever they can get the best value for their money.
Creating digital tools to directly engage health plan members.
Previously, the inclusion of digital tools in insurance plans, mainly downloadable apps, was driven by employers who wanted to market innovative insurance options to potential employees—not the insurance companies themselves.
Now, we’re seeing more insurance companies pushing for the creation and use of digital tools. They are skipping providers and leveraging their care managers to implement more digital interaction with members. We see more desire from these companies to drive engagement and activation with these tools rather than including them on a list to make an employer happy.
The increase in digital engagement by patients directly with their insurance provider creates additional competition for health systems.
Growing interest in proving the real-world effectiveness of digital tools.
The discussion about the effectiveness of apps to manage chronic diseases is nothing new. But now we are seeing more interest in applying the same level of rigor usually used with a clinical trial for a drug or diagnostic going into proving the real-world impact of these tools.
This may be a response to payor demanding to see evidence of their effectiveness prior to funding a digital health app or tool. As a result, there’s a big push to figure out what type of studies they should use to find this evidence and opportunities for health systems to participate in this research.
Skipping payors and entering into direct contracts with employers.
Some health systems are starting to enter into direct contracts with employers—skipping the payor altogether – and digital health tools are showing up in many of these contracts.
This direct contract negotiation is especially prevalent if a large employer has a high concentration of employees in a specific geography where a health system is also present.
Shifting revenue focus to service line profitability.
Historically, health systems have focused more on top line revenue than operating revenue. This is shifting toward an increased focus on service line by service line profit contribution.
When previously talking about digital health tools, the conversation was about closing gaps in care and generating more fee-for-service business. Now, health systems aren’t as worried about bringing in appointments, often due to staffing shortages, and are more interested in removing costs by leveraging digital health to help make their care teams happier and more efficient.
There’s more emphasis on using technology to become more efficient through automation.
Ongoing confusion related to telehealth reimbursements.
The telehealth reimbursement, for all the publicity that it’s had, remains confusing and administratively burdensome for health systems. If you feel like you are missing the boat, you are standing on the dock with everyone else. There’s also a lack of clarity and hesitation surrounding what is possible when tracking patients for multiple conditions.
For example, if a system tracks a diabetic patient and then they become pregnant, they often fear accidentally double charging CMS.
Make 2023 the year of digital health success
While many influences are shaping the future of care delivery, one aspect remains the same—digital health tools help health systems stay profitable and create better experiences for staff and patients. Simple as that.