Healthcare Not Yet Meeting Consumers' Digital Expectations, Execs Say

Hospitals and health systems started to improve digital capabilities as a result of the pandemic, but that momentum is starting to slow, according to new report.

Hospitals and health systems underwent a lot of changes at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic to deliver care to patients at home, but the momentum is beginning to slow, according to results from the sixth annual Kaufman Hall State of Consumerism in Healthcare Survey.

The survey fielded responses from more than 110 executives from nearly 95 organizations representing community hospitals, health systems, pediatric hospitals, academic medical centers, rehabilitation hospitals, and rural providers.

These respondents have noted that their organizations are moderating their moves to overhaul aspects of care delivery and pricing strategy to be more consumer friendly. In general, they’ve noted that telehealth use has “dramatically leveled off,” according to the report.

However, their organizations have shown they believe they need to be more proactive when it comes to improving digital capabilities. Less than half have said their organizations were planning for incremental improvements (45%) or are proactively shifting where they deliver care (43%). Only 25% said their organization was making significant investments so they can perform ahead of their competition. The same proportion said their organization was only willing to change to a moderate degree.

Healthcare has notoriously been behind other industries when it comes to digital offerings, but the respondents said that has changed compared with the time before the pandemic. Half said their prepandemic offerings were far behind non-healthcare companies and an additional 26% said slightly behind. When considering their current offerings, 28% said they were far behind and 45% said slightly behind.

The majority (80%) of respondents said they are at least somewhat concerned about the long-term impact the COVID-19 pandemic will have on hospital volume with 4% reporting they are “extremely concerned.”

However, things may be turning around. Respondents did indicate “they have seen further movement toward volumes approaching—though not yet reaching—pre-pandemic levels in recent months, as patients grow more comfortable with in-person care or seek treatment they delayed during the heights of the pandemic,” according to the report.

The survey also gauged how executives viewed disruptive threats to their organization. More than half (52%) said they view new primary care models as “strong” or “extreme” threats, and 37% said the same about new insurance providers.

UnitedHealth Group/Optum is viewed as the biggest competitive threat in general with 76% responding that they see it as a strong or extreme threat. CVS/Aetna is the next biggest threat (64%), followed by Walmart (58%) and Amazon (57%).

According to the report, many executives noted that their organizations are in the early stages of exploring partnerships or joint ventures in order to offer new services and reshape their routine care for consumers. Nearly half (46%) said they are planning to implement new models but haven’t fully implemented them yet, and 33% said they have implemented new models but haven’t fully integrated across the system. In addition, 13% aren’t planning for any new models and reported they are “using the same care models that have been used historically.”

While a majority of respondents said they offer telehealth (90%) and walk-in clinics (73%), far fewer offer other innovative primary care services, such as in-home patient monitoring (37%), home-based primary care (22%), or artificial intelligence (12%). Five percent said they offer no innovative primary care services.

“Moving forward, organizations that seek to thrive must be prepared to deliver care when, where, and how consumers want to receive it,” the report noted.

The pandemic has introduced healthcare consumers of all ages to telehealth and other home-based services, including older Americans. The report expects younger generations will demand digital experiences in their healthcare to match their experiences from other industries.

“Organizations that have moved toward more consumer-friendly models for some time may be better positioned to make a more focused, total transformation effort to a consumer-centric model,” the report concludes.