The healthcare ecosystem is vast, with many disparate systems and what may seem like insurmountable challenges. Regardless of your role in the healthcare spectrum, whether payer, provider, or patient, everyone in the ecosystem is continually faced with a simple yet complex task. According to Nikki Falb-Joslin, Healthcare and Life Science Business Analyst at CodeScience, it all boils down to one question: “As a patient how do I get access to the care that I need and as a payor/provider how do we get people the care they need in the way they need it?”

It is no secret that the global pandemic has forced many healthcare organizations, regardless of sector, to reconsider their delivery care models, meet the demands of patient consumerism, and address workflow inefficiencies. Integrating technology into the health sector has played a massive role in transformation.

By no means does this mean that healthcare has been void of technology up until now, but digital health has arguably surged more recently in the last two years than it has in the past decade, in part fueled by COVID-related demand for virtual health technologies. According to Mercom Capital Group, digital health funding reached $21.6 billion in 2020, an increase of 103% compared to $10.6 billion in 2019. This is a clear indicator that the pandemic has shifted healthcare and the advancement of digital transformation has accelerated rapidly, with no signs of slowing.

Yet even with the sprawling SaaS organizations, start-ups, and Fortune 500 companies that have identified the market white space and are quickly creating solutions to fill identified needs, healthcare organizations continue to face barriers when considering digital implementation.

Let’s dive into 3 of these hurdles hindering technological advancement in healthcare: distrust of newer technologies, lack of attention to market demand and trends, and a misunderstanding of the price of change vs. the long-term cost of inaction.

Uncovering these barriers can expose opportunities for your organization to proactively identify areas in need of innovation, and a forward path to navigate beyond the blockers so many continue to face.

Technology stigmas

Healthcare is complex, but the technology that supports and solves these complexities doesn’t have to be, according to Falb-Joslin — particularly when building a minimum viable product. “We have to remember that many healthcare systems, especially those in the public sector are built on extremely old technologies like COBOL.” 

Historically, healthcare orgs tended to use massive, monolithic technology systems to address the complexities of the industry, but that approach isn’t working in today’s fast-paced, app-centric world. Falb-Joslin believes decoupling these older systems and taking a more modular approach is the way forward, but not all organizations are ready to let go of their old technology, even when the systems are proving to be incapable of further change.

This “status quo” mentality is often paired with a distrust of newer technologies and modern, agile, no-code development techniques. “But low code or no code doesn’t mean inability to address the complexities of the healthcare industry” says Falb-Joslin. 

In fact, a more agile, modular approach to development tends to result in a more robust and reliable system. Falb-Joslin points to the fact that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) now requires a modular approach for all new Medicaid systems because the fail rate of large system implementations was so high.

She says there’s another stigma that technology development must be perfect. However, she recommends adopting an entrepreneurial mindset. “Why not get your offering to 80% and allow the market to dictate the last 20% so you know you’re developing based on the needs of your constituents?”

Not following the data

The race is on to develop provider- and patient-focused applications or services, but the way in which healthcare providers and systems will adopt these technologies and at what rate remains to be seen, despite the fact that the recent pandemic has put a spotlight on system inefficiencies and created an urgency to address them and future-proof the industry. 

According to Melissa Laake, HLS Lead at CodeScience, a digitally transformed organization is one that takes full advantage of IT and IT-related capabilities to support business models, streamline processes and workflows, and identify and support patient needs. But in order to do that, healthcare organizations must follow and understand market demand and trends.

For example, funding in digital health has increased as has the advancement of wearable technology as consumers seek to take a more active role in their health journey by monitoring and tracking their health through smart devices. According to Insider Intelligence, more than 80% of consumers are willing to wear fitness technology and demand for such technologies has more than tripled over the past 4 years.

Data shows smart devices can lead to improved health behaviors, which in turn lead to reduced hospital visits and readmissions. This means, by encouraging and incentivizing the use of these devices, providers and insurers can lessen the rising cost per patient. 

What does this mean for a health provider, insurer or Saas business? By paying attention to the data on customer demand and trends, you may be able to uncover some opportunities for innovation that can reduce costs while providing new digital services.

The price of change

The pandemic hit the healthcare industry with unprecedented financial pressures that according to Bloomberg are still causing a potential $122 billion in lost revenue for U.S. hospitals in 2021. This pressure has forced healthcare companies to closely examine their bottom lines. Given this situation, some businesses are understandably hesitant to increase spending on digital technologies.

According to Falb-Joslin, sometimes healthcare organizations think they can’t afford the price of change. But perhaps the real question is, what’s the true long-term cost if you don’t make the shift toward digital transformation? 

Falb-Joslin believes the issue isn’t a lack of capital, but an unwillingness to embrace change. “Throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen a lot of healthcare organizations pivot all of a sudden to address the immediate needs from virtual visits to understanding HIPAA compliance in the time of COVID. So, it’s possible,” she says. “It’s really just moving the dollars around.”

In the long run, investment in digital transformation will reduce the astronomical costs of building and supporting old school, monolithic systems and will lead to greater efficiencies that can help ease bloated line items across healthcare org budgets.

Beyond the barriers

As we continue to see a digital-first push across healthcare, digital transformation and innovation is ultimately helping leaders pinpoint opportunities for better care; when you have better data you produce better decisions, and better technology can lead to better coordination and outcomes.

As Scott Shreeve, M.D. and CEO of Crossover Health has said, it’s all about solving for the triple aim: cost, quality, and experience, and moving from a focus on conventional, synchronous care visits to one that does not simply incorporate digital, but literally places “digital first” at its core.

To learn more about how your healthcare organization can power over the hurdles hindering technological advancement, uncover new opportunities for innovation, and execute on those opportunities at scale, check out our webinar, Ready, Set, Launch: Accelerating Healthcare Innovation One App at a Time.