by Dan O'Donnell, Tammy Graves

Healthcare providers are the heart of the U.S. healthcare system, and for more than two years, they’ve been serving our country on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, they face a confluence of other disruptive challenges: new industry entrants and consolidation; the shift toward value-based care (VBC); workforce shortages exacerbated by the pandemic; and increasing consumer expectations for choice and digital care delivery.

Healthcare providers have been so overwhelmed by the pandemic that survival has been the immediate imperative. In addition to helping providers address the emergent challenges of COVID-19, we’re helping them consider how the pandemic will provide a forcing function to transform. With that in mind, our healthcare team is helping care delivery organizations cut through the intense noise to identify opportunities, move forward on strategic initiatives, and add much-needed bandwidth to support momentum on advancing their organization. This frees up precious time for healthcare leaders to meet the immediate, fast-changing needs of their patients and staff without sacrificing the longer-term strategic goals of the organization.

Looking forward to the future isn't optional right now. There is an imperative to look for ways to be more innovative, improve collaboration across teams, and  adopt digital capabilities that enhance the healthcare consumer and employee experience. In our work with leading healthcare providers across the country, we see five areas of focus in the year ahead.

The future of clinical growth

There’s no going back; success will be built on new growth strategies.

The pandemic has distracted and delayed many care delivery organizations from pursuing their plans for growth. But while survival is the immediate need, the ability to grow and thrive means finding a strategic path to progress, even amid time and resource constraints. 

Healthcare providers are finding that they can’t pick up where they left off. In today’s environment of accelerating change and pressure from every angle, it’s no longer enough to apply the same growth strategies that worked in the past.  Providers must redefine their growth strategies to navigate disruptive change—with a clear-eyed view of why value-based care is here to stay.  They must compete with new entrants who are introducing new models to directly engage healthcare consumers and forcing traditional providers to rethink all channels of growth—including their ambulatory strategy, care networks, access points, acquisitions, partnerships and how technology plays an important role in the future.

Clinical workforce strategy

Providers are looking to reimagine their workforce for sustainability. 

We see two seriously dissonant truths in care delivery now: Clinician burn-out rates are at their highest levels ever recorded—while clinicians and staff are the center of every healthcare provider’s consumer experience and brand. 

Although COVID-19 exacerbated the workforce crisis, the healthcare provider was on an unsustainable trajectory even before the pandemic. As care delivery organizations across the country confront the largest clinical workforce shortage in known history, they have little to look back on that can actually help address the current situation and pave the way for the future. Just one example: because the entire industry is grappling with workforce shortages, traditional acquire-and-retain strategies are no longer sufficient. Providers need parallel-path strategies to stem the near-term workforce crisis, ensure mid-term workforce retention, and embrace the longer-term adaptation and innovation of care models.

The question for healthcare providers is how to go from here. We see the answer in health providers that are taking this historic opportunity to reimagine and reshape their clinical workforce for sustainability. Providers are redefining their workplace experience to strategically align their people around their mission of care. For most, this is a transformation that requires new ways of engaging and supporting their workforce, recognizing that people are the foundation of healthcare delivery. Making the shift includes everything from new care delivery models and health outcome strategies to meaningful workforce development, DEI policies and other changes that will improve the workforce experience.

Omni-channel healthcare

New connections in care delivery are happening across all channels. 

In doctors’ offices and hospitals around the country, the role of healthcare provider will change more in the next decade than it has in the past half-century. Connecting to patients and healthcare consumers in both the physical and digital world has become the price of entry for providers. Fully integrated models of care are expected to provide seamless, customer-centric, omnichannel access, regardless of which physical or digital “front door” their consumers come through. 

In order to capture a larger population and improve its health, care delivery organizations must expand their digital services. Providers are embracing new models that fully deploy all channels of care—including remote patient monitoring, mobile health, and at-home care—all without losing the personal connection of individual care.

We see providers meeting consumer expectations with care models that are structured to provide multimodal patient support. Multimodal support provides cost-effective ways to improve physical and mental health outside the physical care setting, expand the healthcare consumer community, and generate a wealth of useful information for continuous improvement. 

Consumer health

As people view healthcare through a consumer lens, providers must too.

Consumers are shopping around to compare healthcare options, and they seek alternatives when they’re not satisfied. Healthcare industry disruptors that are responding to this rising demand are rapidly upping consumers’ expectations of traditional providers. 

As these consumer and competitive pressures continue to increase, healthcare providers are looking to offer a holistic experience across all interactions that is efficient, meaningful, and differentiating. To attract and retain the patients vital to growth, providers need an integrated strategy for the physical, digital, and virtual customer experience. For those that do have strategies, they must ensure the desired experience is felt by patients and adjust as their populations change. 

We see large healthcare providers improving ease and access for their treated populations through technology interoperability, new digital technologies, and reimagined processes. A streamlined experience can increase consumer loyalty and enable caregivers to provide better care. The ultimate goal: to create brand loyalty and repeat customers within the provider network.  

Value-based care (VBC) acceleration

There's an opportunity to differentiate through outcomes-based care.

Patients, providers, and payers have rising expectations for predictable health outcomes. At the same time, care delivery costs are also on the rise. How to address the tension between rising expectations for predictability and rising costs? The U.S. healthcare ecosystem is betting on value-based care (VBC) programs to improve both. 

The healthcare industry’s progress toward VBC was slow but steady for several years—until the pandemic began. COVID-19 drove a massive, transformative shift away from VBC and into digitalization. Now there’s a pressing need to accelerate progress on an outcomes-based care model, which is integral to VBC.  The goal is to link reimbursement to outcomes, replacing the fee-for-service model that remains the primary payment mode today.

VBC won’t happen overnight. Providers that create a clear, actionable roadmap can make meaningful progress and avoid sudden shocks to their systems in the future. The move to VBC calls for aligned goals, acknowledgement of existing capabilities and gaps, an achievable and sustainable path of change, and the technology and data to align caregiver approaches and decisions. 

Due to government and regulatory shifts that occur at regular intervals, we recommend that healthcare providers not go down one narrow path to VBC. Instead, providers should approach VBC based on evolving market opportunities as a set of strategic partnerships, paired with internal investments that can flex in a shifting environment. The near-term goals? Improving care outcomes and predictability.

Building healthy momentum: from surviving to thriving 

Healthcare delivery is a profoundly human experience, and its future depends on human-centered change.

Healthcare providers that put their people first can build the buy-in, alignment, and momentum to achieve their missions and their goals for growth. They can create a culture where talented people want to belong and build their professional careers. And they can instill in their organization the resilience to adapt to an ever-changing environment—the key to sustainability and success in the years to come. Point B brings healthcare leadership the expertise and empathy, together with the horsepower, to build momentum on the critical path from strategy to action.