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In Practice

The New Health Care Economy Calls for Shifts From the C-Suite

The events of 2020 have catalyzed what we already knew we were capable of doing in health care. For example, symptom checks powered by artificial intelligence for COVID-19 have resulted in marked reductions in urgent care and emergency room visits, and virtual visits have entered the mainstream. 

Virtual and AI-powered care delivery not only means we need fewer exam rooms, fewer on-site staff and less parking — it also means the work itself for doctors and nurses may look different and will require new ways of thinking about leadership, operations and staffing. 

New Economy, New Mindset

Although new mindsets and new approaches don’t come in the same box the telehealth software came in, they have significant value. We already see that what were near-impossible techniques before — such as asking a patient via video chat to open their medicine cabinet and show a doctor what pills they’re taking or to open the fridge to show their physician what foods they’re eating — are transforming care delivery.

As care delivery transforms, so too must the workforce. Consider, for example, that labor costs typically represent approximately half of a hospital’s operating budget. Forward-thinking leaders are using the pandemic crisis to reconsider staffing models that address long-standing challenges related to physician burnout and staffing shortages.

But implementing more efficient and flexible staffing models is only part of the answer. At the same time, health care leaders must develop broader skill sets — both across leadership teams and throughout their greater organizations — in order for new ways of working to take hold. The need to collaborate across traditional boundaries will only increase as patient care technology becomes more sophisticated. Leaders who pivot their operating models will position themselves to make it through the current crisis and emerge in a stronger position to compete for talent.

Health care leaders recognize that in the post-pandemic world, connecting a clinician with a patient or a patient’s caregiver is only the first leg of the journey. The next stage, which we are already starting to experience, is to deliver better outcomes — enabled by changing the scope of what care people receive, where they receive it, when they receive it and how. To achieve that, health care leaders must reimagine care delivery at its core. And, they must intentionally build the skills required to lead and sustain this slanted approach.

Shifting from a Traditional to a Telehealth Operating Model

As the health care industry and the world both become more virtual, home-based telehealth care models and in-home self-administered labs have seen marked recent growth. But shifting to these models is deceptively complex. Doing so requires a flexible workforce with new skills, staffed at different times and in different locations, with new supporting tools and infrastructure. This will not occur in isolation from the traditional operating model, which will see a reduction in its use and new expectations for flexibility and coordination with new models. That requires new hiring, training and approaches to compensation.

Leadership teams that truly harness the value of technology, AI, diversity, delivering remote care, and so on will do three specific things differently compared to those who don’t — and this shift will make all the difference.

Take the increased relevance of cybersecurity risks, for example. Over on the dark web, health care records sell for up to 20 times the price of credit card information. As the volume of tools and devices increases, a standard, repeatable approach is necessary to bring new technology into a health care ecosystem that provides both information and physical security across any location — while facilitating the user experience for expert care providers, at-home caregivers and patients. The typical traditional health system organization lacks that capability. Leaders must ask: How can my team come together to keep consumers safe while making the most of what new technology can offer?

Health Care Leaders’ New Perspective Is Forward-Facing

Leadership teams that truly harness the value of technology, AI, diversity, delivering remote care, and so on will do three specific things differently compared to those who don’t — and this shift will make all the difference.

First, those who harness this kind of value will blur the lines among typically siloed functions that can do more by working together. There are practical ways to foster collaboration, including sharing ideas and data transparently and broadly across the organization; reviewing customer-focused analysis to support decision-making; and encouraging trials of new, cross-functional approaches. Be willing to take risks, so long as there is a mitigation plan in place from coordinated roles across the team. 

Defining and transparently reporting success metrics will help ensure stronger ownership and better execution. Above all, establish the norm that not every new effort needs to succeed and scale up on the first attempt. An important focus is to innovate beyond traditional restrictions. 

Inclusive Leaders

Second, those who harness this value will increase their ability to effectively lead and manage a workforce with diverse sets of skills and backgrounds. As a result, they’ll better serve their populations’ varied needs and expectations. Consider that inclusive leaders behave differently. They ensure the meetings they lead encompass a full range of perspectives. They actively talk about inclusion as part of their business-as-usual conversations. They give everyone in their orbit — including those in teams who don’t directly report to them — detailed and actionable feedback about how to improve and truly thrive. They challenge themselves to partner with new people over time — rather than defaulting to what’s comfortable or familiar. When an urgent piece of work comes up, they don’t automatically lean on the one person they feel most comfortable with. These kinds of behaviors — which are not necessarily innate, but rather skills that can intentionally be built and honed — bring new ideas, questions, and solutions to the forefront.

Consider the Care-Provider’s Experience

Third, apply the transformation mind set to the care provider experience as much as the patient experience. Physician burnout and overall well-being have plagued the industry for decades, and the tide won’t turn without deliberate effort. The care provider experience and feedback must be included as important metrics in any effort. If conducting video appointments from home allows a practitioner to avoid her commute time, she’ll gain back an average of an hour per day. Other key benefits of this workflow include better job flexibility, more time caring for patients and a healthier overall work-life balance.

We are just starting to see the future of health care’s thriving workforce — and the future of those who best lead it — materialize. The promise of the future is right here, ready and waiting. Let’s seize it.

Deirdre Baggot

Partner of Health & Life Sciences at Oliver Wyman

Deirdre Baggot is a partner of health and life sciences at Oliver Wyman. Dr. Baggot is one of the nation’s most respected voices on healthcare payment reform. She pioneered development of bundled payments as the leader of the CMS Acute Care Episode (ACE) bundled payment demonstration at Exempla Healthcare in Denver. Drawing upon this work and her experience as a clinician and hospital executive, she has designed and implemented new payment models with employers, commercial payers, and Medicaid and Medicare in over 200 hospitals.

Amanda Evison

Partner of Health & Life Sciences and Organizational Effectiveness at Oliver Wyman

Amanda Evison is the partner of Health & Life Sciences and Organizational Effectiveness at Oliver Wyman. She specializes in strategic leadership in Oliver Wyman’s Organizational Effectiveness practice.

Elizabeth Southerlan

Principal at Oliver Wyman

Elizabeth Southerlan is a principal in the Health & Life Sciences Practice at Oliver Wyman.

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