March 29, 2022

Navigating Healthcare Change in the COVID Era

In a recent Leader Dialogue Radio podcast, ABOUT Healthcare in partnership with the Baldrige Foundation led an in-depth discussion about how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted healthcare. In the episode, host Dr. Roger Spoelman interviewed guest J. Daniel Beckham about his recent monograph titled, Healthcare on Fire: A COVID Chronicle. The discussion revealed an upended healthcare status quo and the need to eliminate waste and improve performance in preparation for any future disruptive crises.


Even Change has Changed


The healthcare industry has always had to deal with change, but historically change was gradual, and organizations were able to adapt over time. With COVID, several significant changes occurred simultaneously at an accelerated rate, and healthcare organizations have been struggling to adjust as a result. In addition to disrupting clinical workflows and pathways to care, the pandemic has created a growing flood of information and connections that Beckham says is creating a “volatile stew” of transformative change.


According to ABOUT Healthcare CMO Darin Vercillo, MD, one of the changes COVID has introduced is a strain on resources. In the past, if a healthcare organization was faced with change, they would turn to alternative resources (such as neighboring hospitals or staffing pools) to adapt. During COVID, this network of alternative resources isn’t always available. Providers therefore have had to become more flexible as a result.


Vercillo used his own experience as a hospitalist to illustrate this issue. “Transferring a patient from the ER has become a challenge in the era of COVID because of the bed shortages it has created,” he says. “If there are no beds available at our hospital, we would typically look at the 10 to 12 other hospitals in our region to tap into their capacity. Finding capacity at one or more of these hospitals never used to be an issue, but during the COVID crisis, it was a daily occurrence. We’ve had to transfer some patients 500 miles away to find an ICU bed.” The network of information necessary to understand where your next move is as a healthcare provider in this environment is astounding.


Not all the change that the pandemic has been accelerating is bad, however. Much of it is driving process improvements that can have positive long-term effects on care delivery and health outcomes. For example, it is forcing organizations to connect across traditional boundaries and breaking down silos to improve collective capabilities to treat patients. The Arizona Surge Line case study exemplifies this disruptive process improvement. Arizona state and healthcare leaders watched and learned as COVID-19 ravaged other parts of the country. Determined to avoid overwhelming hospitals with infected patients, they formulated a groundbreaking initiative involving health systems across the state. The Arizona Surge Line, powered by the ABOUT access and orchestration (A&O) solution, has become a model for large-scale responses to healthcare emergencies.


Eliminate Waste to Gain Control


Beckham suggests the best way for healthcare organizations to address the monumental changes introduced by COVID is to focus on the controllable. Eliminating the waste inherent in current healthcare processes is something providers can control to improve flexibility and offset the negative impact of abrupt change.


“We’ve known for a long time that in traditional process flows there is about 40% wasted effort,” says Ben Sawyer, VP of Market Development at ABOUT Healthcare. “Healthcare providers have an opportunity to take that waste out to create margin.”


Leveraging technology and analytics not only helps make processes more efficient, but it can also enhance visibility and insights both inside and outside the health system to optimize resource utilization.


Enter the Healthcare Megabrand Assemblers


Beckham closes the podcast by sharing his thoughts on the future of healthcare delivery. The way he sees it, COVID is accelerating a transition from a concentrated to a distributed model where care is delivered by a variety of providers that are widely distributed geographically.


“Historically, healthcare has been delivered on hospital campuses,” he says. “COVID has been a catalyst for an explosion of new competitors – folks that are able to deliver care remotely. Many of these new competitors are consolidated multispecialty groups that formerly had to partner with hospitals for funding but are now raising their own capital.”


Beckham describes “megabrand assemblers” like Amazon as other key disruptors to traditional hospital-based healthcare delivery. He believes these platforms will become essential hubs of value in healthcare. Traditional providers, such as the Mayo Clinic, are beginning to position themselves as a megabrand assembler with a focus on connecting consumers to the care they need, when and where they need it.


Hear more of this insightful discussion by listening to the entire podcast here.