Posted January 17, 2017

Managing the Rapid Pace of Change and Disruption in Healthcare

What's Right in Health Care® 2016 brought more than 1,200 clinicians and healthcare leaders together at what has become one of the largest peer-to-peer learning venues in healthcare. It's impossible to bring this many of healthcare's high-performers together without discussing the rapid and relentless pace of change in healthcare today.

Managing change is the subject of Part 4 of our 7-part series on What's Right in Health Care. In Part 3 we looked at high reliability in healthcare, another key issue for clinicians and leaders, and in Part 5 we will put the spotlight on physicians and physician engagement.

The pace of change in healthcare was captured in a keynote talk by Warner Thomas, president and CEO of Ochsner Health System, New Orleans, Louisiana. He began by referencing now-familiar names such as Airbnb and Uber that have profoundly disrupted their industries in remarkably short periods of time. He argued that healthcare is ripe for similar disruptions, and in fact is already facing an unstoppable wave of new technologies and business models: "If we don't think this is going to happen in healthcare, we are just wrong."

He cited examples of telemedicine, which is inevitable and probably essential if providers are to meet growing needs in areas such as chronic disease management. There are now many websites rating hospitals, clinics, doctors and other providers. Technology is enabling quantum increases in computing power and steep reductions in the cost of many procedures. This means new opportunities for start-up companies, which have much more flexibility and a lot less to lose than established health systems.

Change in healthcare is rapid, constant and often unpredictable. Organizations must achieve high reliability during an era of unprecedented disruption.

All of this adds new dimensions to patient experience, which is evolving into a broader patient/consumer experience. More patients will continue to be more involved in decisions about their care, using many different tools, often with much higher expectations. The implications for patient care are fundamental, pointing to patient/provider relationships based on partnership and mutual empowerment.

These developments were examined further in a session led by Matthew Bates, Huron managing director, and Studer Group senior leader, who provided an inventory of new healthcare business models, including retail clinics as well as online services. He used recent survey data to illustrate the shifts underway in patient/consumer behavior. Healthcare, for example, was the largest Smartphone application category in 2015.

The question for healthcare leaders is: Do you embrace these changes or fight them? Warner Thomas argued for embracing the changes. Matthew Bates agreed, and recommended getting started by experimenting with new models, exploring new partnerships and leveraging Electronic Medical Record (EMR) investments - directions that are now being pursued by healthcare industry leaders.

Rapid technological change was examined from a physician's perspective by Dr. Gurpreet Dhaliwal, professor of medicine, University of California San Francisco and Studer Group speaker. Physicians are at the front lines of technological change, and Dr. Dhaliwal sees both opportunities and challenges, noting that "we are all better diagnosticians because of technology" but also that "computers are still doing just one small corner of medicine". Further, the time required to manage EMR and other data systems still outweighs the benefits for many physicians. There have been breakthroughs, and the potential benefits are substantial, but "we aren't there yet", in Dr. Dhaliwal's view. Ultimately we have to overcome the barriers and work toward "man and machine" rather than "man vs. machine".

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