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Why Traditional Healthcare will be Playing Catch-Up

Digital health startups are setting the roadmap for traditional players to follow

By Derek Strauss (COO)
April 13, 2021
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As millions of people have been saying for the past year - COVID has changed the way we deliver healthcare forever.

However, what’s been so unique and interesting is that the situation has opened the door for “the little guys” to quickly come in with new and innovative solutions that would’ve otherwise taken years for healthcare organizations to implement.

What the landscape looked like Pre-Pandemic

Before the pandemic, going into your doctor’s office was the norm. From my personal experience, just to get a refill for a medication that I’ve been taking for the past 10 years required me to have an in-person visit.

In 2019, just over 1/4 of provider visits were performed over telehealth. Looking back, it really makes you scratch your head thinking why was it so hard to have a phone or video call with a doctor?

While there are some areas that healthcare organizations have adopted “new” technology, many times it doesn’t benefit the patient very much. Yeah, I’m talking about you Epic, Cerner, and the other EHR companies of the world. Considering that these systems were primarily designed to optimize billing, it makes you realize that the bottom dollar is often more important than patients for many U.S. healthcare organizations. As a startup founder, I can’t imagine designing a billing system that’s better than my product (unless I’m Stripe of course).

Along with the lack of telehealth options and minimal consumer benefit from EHRs, scheduling is one of my big pre-pandemic healthcare gripes. With scheduling applications such as Calendly that are commonly used in the business world, you’d think it’d be easy enough for a provider to sync their calendar to that? Well, according toa survey in late 2017 by PatientPop, only 17% of patients had the option to book a visit online.

Where things have changed the most during the Pandemic

As mentioned above, before COVID it was next to impossible for me to speak with my doctor on the phone, let alone get a prescription refill. Funny enough, when I needed a refill again in June, he had no problem doing it over the phone.

During the pandemic, it wasn’t just my provider that was quick to adopt Telehealth. In 2020 there wasa 3060% increase in Telehealth usage. However, going from 0 to 100 in a few weeks for telehealth implementation was no easy task for many providers. Largely a lot of these processes were put in place to act as “glue” to hold things together until in-person visits remain. It will be interesting to see how we can build upon these temporary solutions to eventually have a great consumer experience for televisits across the majority of providers.

Something that in my opinion, will help accelerate that push towards a great consumer health experience is the explosion of Digital Health services and apps. Digital Health has become a breath of fresh air compared to the archaic technology solutions that we’ve become accustomed to with traditional healthcare. What’s been great so far is that many of these solutions have been designed with the consumer in mind.

Unlike traditional healthcare applications such as EHR’s, these services are digital-first and are helping consumers with something other than billing. What’s so great about this is that it has democratized access to care, and even more so for chronic and specific conditions. Services like Nurx for example, have enabled women in rural communities to more easily access contraceptive pills. Before services like this existed, those that were in “contraceptive deserts” would have to go through great lengths just to get their medication, whereas now all it requires is a few clicks.

Not only has access to care increased but so has the ability to find care that meets your specific needs. Companies like Spora Health are helping address potential health equity biases to people of color by offering their patients a provider and experience that is culturally centered and designed for their community. Services like this are helping patients get care that is better personalized to them and will ultimately help improve outcomes.

I believe that we’re still in the early days of digital health and we will continue to see a big influx of new services being released. In 2020, there wasover $14 Billion in funding for digital health startups. It is estimated that this year there will be at least the same if not more poured into digital health innovation. If that holds trues, (which there is no reason to believe it won’t), this will help pave the way for even more services to come to market that can address conditions that haven’t been met, and improve those on the market with additional competition.

What opportunities still exist?

As more health options and services come to market, this will create a few opportunities. Currently, as it stands health data is very fragmented, and by increasing the number of services people are using to get care will only increase the need for data connectivity. For example, if a patient is using a diabetes digital health service, any new changes in their health, prescriptions, etc. will either need to be effectively communicated with their provider(s) or automatically added to an accessible health record. However, hopefully with new developments related to FHIR, this process will be more standardized and easier to perform.

The second opportunity that I see is continually improving and standardizing the digital patient experience. By this, I mean being able to do things such as texting, video conferencing, and emailing your doctor across all of the health ecosystems. Obviously, in some rural areas it may be more difficult to achieve, but that case aside, many major health systems in urban areas (including my provider in the NYC area) still don’t offer these full capabilities.

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How traditional healthcare organizations will try to catch up

Upstart digital health companies have shown us what healthcare could and should be like; a consumer-centric marketplace that gives you care that’s actually personalized to your needs. Additionally, a digital-first approach it’s showed us that we don’t necessarily need to go in-person to receive great care - Hinge Health is living proof of this.

As the old saying goes, “if you can’t beat them, join them”. For traditional healthcare organizations to catch up to the growing demands of their patients they will need to more rapidly adopt technology and work closely with efficacious digital health companies. To be able to do this effectively, I believe we’ll continue to see more startups acquired by bigger players and a growing demand for consumer-focused technology services.

It’s interesting to think that for once the “little guys” or “the new kids on the block” have been able to get the upper hand of behemoths that have existed for decades. 2020 and the pandemic woke up a sleeping giant in healthcare and has now made us realize the experience we deserve. I’m looking forward to seeing how things shape out, and more importantly, being able to text my doctor :).

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Originally published: April 13, 2021
Last updated: April 13, 2021