Health

Report: Healthcare leaders have an optimistic outlook beyond COVID-19

Philips hosted a virtual round table with industry leaders to discuss the findings of the newly-released Future Health Index 2021 (FHI). Philips’ chief medical officer, Jan Kimpen, hosted the discussion between Professor Wim van Harten, CEO of Rijnstate Hospital in the Netherlands, and Dr Aaron Neinstein, director of clinical informatics at UCSF Center for Digital Health Innovation in the US, to discuss the future of healthcare post-pandemic.

In its sixth year, the FHI is an original research report conducted by Philips to analyse and determine the current and future priorities of healthcare leaders across the globe. The report, titled ‘A Resilient Future: Healthcare leaders look beyond the crisis’, surveyed almost 3,000 healthcare leaders across 14 countries to determine the readiness of countries to address the global challenges in healthcare and see how they are working to build resilient healthcare systems.

WHY IT MATTERS

The FHI identified three key trends for post-pandemic healthcare: the acceleration of virtual care delivery; a stepwise approach in digital transformation from telehealth to AI adoption; and an increased focus on building sustainable healthcare systems.

Despite conducting the research in the throes of the pandemic, the report showed that healthcare leaders were already looking ahead.

“What was surprising at the beginning was that, while we were expecting a pessimistic view of healthcare, this was not the case,” said Kimpen during the roundtable. “Healthcare leaders are optimistic. They are energised during this crisis and they are optimistic, 75% of them think that their hospital and their healthcare system will be able to deliver quality care three years from now, starting today.”

Part of this optimism was directed towards the increased prominence of telehealth in healthcare systems, which, the report stated, is expected to make up 23% of routine care delivery three years from now.

Van Harten, who has been integral in bringing telehealth and value-based care strategies to the region around Arnhem, reflected how Rijnstate had to redefine the timelines of the digital strategy they had set pre-pandemic.

“We had been working as a hospital with 750 beds for about half a million people and we changed our paradigm to say that ‘we are a hospital with half a million beds and it doesn’t matter anymore where patients should be treated’. The horizon that we had was about five to ten years and I think the trends that we see will make this happen a lot sooner.”

The acceleration of virtual care services also means an improvement of the organisation’s processes and business information.

Neinstein added that the main obstacle for telehealth adoption that was overcome during the pandemic was the cultural expectations about care delivery. As patients have become accustomed to receiving care virtually, their expectations of how care is delivered have changed, which is an accelerant for virtual care transformation.

The FHI found, however, that the current focus on telehealth will likely move to investment in AI in the next three years. This could be used not only to improve processes and workflows but also clinical decision making.

“When people think of AI in healthcare, they imagine a robot replacing the doctor,” said Neinstein. “That is the last thing that will happen when leveraging and implementing AI in healthcare. What we are looking at is creating lots of efficiencies. We are reliant on cumbersome workflows and a lot of human effort to touch every part of the care journey and there are a lot of opportunities to layer in machine learning and AI in ways that are not risky but really save people a lot of time and energy.”

Van Harten acknowledged that, as a teaching hospital with limited funds, investment in AI had as much to do with making the right alignments and partnerships with institutions and startups to drive digital innovation as it had to do with the implementation itself.

A surprising finding from the FHI was a commitment to environmental sustainability, despite being in the midst of a pandemic. With just 4% of those surveyed reporting that their facility currently prioritised sustainable healthcare systems, 58% expected to see this as a priority three years from now.

“The care and the patient are always in the first place but, looking at the environment, it is inevitable that you as a hospital invest in these types of activities,” said van Harten. He underlined that, alongside goals such as ensuring a percentage of green energy was used in hospitals and climate control in operating rooms, sustainability was a priority when building new facilities. “We [are building] a new site in about two years and this will be the first site in the Netherlands to be hydrogen-powered. We are really proud and rather confident that we will succeed in achieving that.”

Neinstein highlighted the potential of technology in creating more sustainable healthcare systems, particularly focusing on the role of measurement and analytics to identify the “low hanging fruit for sustainability”, as well as the further integration of remote care as a means of reducing unnecessary travel emissions for patients.

THE LARGER PICTURE

As the threat of the pandemic decreases and vaccination programmes roll out across the world, the disparities and health inequities that were illuminated have affected political change

The accelerated uptake of digital tools and virtual care over the last year, for instance, has been seen as a way to close the digital divide, but it must maintain the quality of care. Recently in conversation with HIMSS TV, Franka Cadée, president of the International Confederation of Midwives, highlighted the need for digital tools to foster human-to-human interaction and compassionate care: “When you use digital means, it’s important to use them in the right balance and to make sure you build on the human trust. Then you can use digital means but you need to keep that trust as well and make sure you invest in that.”

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