By JEFF GOLDSMITH
As John Glaser argued a recent piece in Harvard Business Review, many health care executives seem have been blinded by the shiny object that is digital health. Forgive us for a powerful feeling of déjà vu. Since the last major digital innovation in health, the electronic health record, fell far short of expectations and probably generated a negative return on investment for many care systems, it is worth thinking about to avoid the same fate with this new wave of digital tools.
As COVID raised concerns about the safety of in-person visits to clinics and physicians’ offices, digital health visits soared during the spring. Traditional health care organizations large and small–hospitals, health plans, physician groups–have since struggled to integrate digital technology effectively into their care offerings and management structure.
In other industries, digital technology acts as a force-multiplier for the core business–it helps firms make much more efficient use of their workforce, customers’ time and physical capital. Amazon used its cloud-based IT infrastructure and sprawling digital “catalog” to compress time to customer fulfillment, eliminating the need for customers to visit stores to get what they needed. And by leveraging other firms’ inventories, it reduced the need to purchase, warehouse and physically handle more than half of what they sell.
Similarly, digital health applications should not be thought of as a “new product”. Indeed, the capability for digital visits and monitoring and digitally enabled remote work has existed (some say, languished) for almost two decades. Digital health tools should be thought of as force multipliers for the trusted relationships at the heart of healthcare. Clinicians can be in two places at once- transforming how patients and clinicians interact by removing both time and physical location as constraints. At the same time, telework enables healthcare enterprises to make more efficient use of scarce clinical and administrative person-power, shrinking their physical capital footprint.
Achieving savings in clinician time and reduction in overhead were the twin drivers of Kaiser Foundation Health Plans’ successful digital health strategy. Kaiser’s two-decade long investment in virtual care has resulted in more than half of Kaiser subscriber interactions with their caregivers (preCOVID) being electronic. The savings in reduced clinic time and overhead dropped through directly to Kaiser’s bottom line by minimizing the consumption of resources inside Kaiser’s fixed capitation pool. But you do not need to be fully, or even partially, capitated to reap digital health’s benefits.Continue reading…