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Healthcare’s future will pivot on digital change

Patricia Birch, Vice President Healthcare Life Sciences Consulting Cognizant
Written by: Patricia Birch

We live in an era of great potential for how current and future generations receive healthcare. Healthcare payers and providers are striving to move toward a more patient-centric, value-based, connected – and ultimately digital – healthcare ecosystem.

To reach that promise, however, urgent change is needed in how the healthcare industry approaches work and work processes. For both healthcare payers and providers, this will require a major break with the status quo when it comes to embracing digital technologies and mindsets.

By 2020, the majority of providers (78%) and payers (74%) believe the use of digital technologies will enable them to make more meaningful contributions to patients’ lives, according to our recent study on the changing nature of work and what it will take to succeed in the digital era. Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work — in conjunction with the renowned economist Nouriel Roubini — surveyed 2,000 top executives at leading companies around the world, including 348 healthcare payers and providers.

Further, more than half of providers (59%) believe they’ll collaborate better with colleagues thanks to digital technologies and approaches, and a similar percent of payers (58%) payers believe digital will enhance work satisfaction.

At the same time, respondents also recognize the vast amount of work ahead, with only one in 10 executives saying they are even moderately ahead of their peers in other industries when it comes to reaping digital benefits. Stakeholders are being forced to look to innovative ways to transform work, specifically to foster vastly improved health outcomes at significantly lower prices in an economically sound way.

Key technology investments

The key technology game-changers, according to our study, will be big data/analytics, automation (through both software and hardware robots) and artificial intelligence (AI).  By 2020, these technologies will dramatically change the concept of how healthcare is delivered, namely through telemedicine, robotic-assisted surgery and AI-augmented diagnosis and prevention. The notion of a “digital house call” will also become more mainstream; already, the number of virtual physician visits is growing as rapidly as reimbursement and state regulations will allow. Further, “high-tech, high-touch” processes will enable physicians and other clinicians to do what they do best. 

At the same time, trends such as healthcare consumerism and personalization are driving the industry to master digital, in order to reshape and transform with the customer at the center. Digital duos like “the doctor and the bot” are changing the game for the future of work for healthcare providers. Increasingly, plugging diagnostic tools into a smartphone is the digital equivalent of “the doctor is in.”

All of these technologies, study respondents believe, will also force their employees (and themselves) to make greater strategic contributions to work and amplify their ability to collaborate with others.

New skills needed

As healthcare delivery changes, so will the skills needed. Providers emphasized a need for greater technical expertise (95%) and greater collaboration (92%). Most payers (94%) believe workers will need to enhance their collaboration skills as they work more closely with smart machines to augment job effectiveness.  

Healthcare executives will also need to more tightly align their leadership skills of today with the analytics skills of tomorrow. For example, while more than 60% of payers and providers believe leadership is the most important skill today, most providers (82%) and payers (74%) by 2020 will emphasize analytical and customer care skills.

Demand for analytical skills will see outsized growth, as payers leverage their datasets with algorithms to get better payment terms, encourage their members to engage in preventative healthcare, avoid risk and reduce their loss ratios.

Digital economics

New digital approaches are needed to help healthcare providers and payers drive down the costs of healthcare – and compete with new “born-digital” entrants. By 2018, our respondents expect to cut costs by 2.4% using digital approaches. We actually see a far larger, untapped opportunity in cost reductions; companies such as TriZetto (a Cognizant healthcare software subsidiary) are using software robots to decrease healthcare payer costs by as much as 90% for some middle-office business processes.

On the revenue side, digital is also helping healthcare players compete with nontraditional competitors that offer completely new approaches to healthcare. In our study, respondents expect digital to drive 11% of revenues in 2018, which is double today’s revenue impact of 5.2%. By 2020, 69% of healthcare providers and 73% of payers believe that 20% or more of their revenues will originate from digital channels.

The digital mandate

At a time of increased patient, media and government scrutiny, the healthcare industry may yet be ready to deliver the convenience and service that consumers regularly experience in other parts of their lives. Those who lead the charge will use digital approaches to succeed.