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Four top priorities of healthcare leaders as they look beyond the crisis

By Jan Kimpen, Chief Medical Officer, Royal Philips.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has presented so many challenges for the healthcare industry globally, but healthcare leaders’ priority lists were hardly easy reading before the crisis. Senior leaders in hospitals and healthcare facilities were already dealing with tight budgets and staffing shortages and burnout even before a global pandemic introduced a host of new issues to tackle.

New training requirements, widespread staff anxiety and burnout, and increased public scrutiny have put healthcare front and center in the global news agenda, and increased the pressure on healthcare leaders. This is why this year, we chose to examine this group in detail.

Our Future Health Index 2021 Report, a Philips research platform and the largest global survey of its kind analysing healthcare leaders, sheds new light on how they are meeting the demands of today while preparing for a new post-pandemic reality.

The shifting role of telehealth amid the pandemic

Telehealth has played an important role in keeping several aspects of the health system running during the pandemic.

Nearly half (42 per cent) of healthcare leaders said facilitating a shift to remote/virtual care was a current priority for them. Accordingly, many healthcare leaders see telehealth as a key investment priority both now and in the future, however the types of telehealth they expect to invest in is set to change significantly.

Sixty four per cent of healthcare leaders say that telehealth technologies are among the top digital health technologies that their hospital or healthcare facility is currently investing most heavily in.

However, when they consider their investment priorities three years from now, only 40 per cent said they were most likely to be investing in telehealth.

It’s hard to know for certain why healthcare leaders are anticipating this decline in investment, but there are some likely reasons.

Given the pandemic has sparked widespread investment and uptake of telehealth technologies today, healthcare leaders may feel less of a need to continue their investment in three years’ time as they will already have a foundation of digital health technology on which to build.

They may also be anticipating a reduction in the collective enthusiasm for telehealth among doctors, nurses and patients as pandemic-era restrictions will hopefully ease over the coming years.

Reimbursement may also be an issue on the minds of healthcare leaders: during the pandemic many healthcare systems adapted to make reimbursement for delivering telehealth services easier, but leaders may be anticipating these payments regimes becoming less generous in the future.

Preparing for greater investment in artificial intelligence  

While telehealth investment is set to reduce over the next three years, healthcare leaders are planning to greatly increase their investment in artificial intelligence over the same time period (74 per ent).

Forty per cent of healthcare leaders believe that implementing predictive healthcare technologies, such as AI and machine learning, will be among the top areas their hospital or healthcare facility will need to invest in three years from now to be prepared for the future.

Even as the worst of the pandemic subsides, it’s clear that COVID-19 will continue to place ongoing pressures on health systems over the long-term. In this context, healthcare leaders may be looking to AI to help deliver faster and more precise diagnosis and treatment.

Technologies that can help time-poor clinicians make faster, more accurate diagnoses and enable them to spend more time with their patients will be of great interest to healthcare leaders as they plan their post-pandemic investment decisions.

The power of collaboration

After the experience of the past eighteen months, healthcare leaders are increasingly wary of going back to old ways of working.

Almost half (41 per cent) of healthcare leaders say that their hospital or healthcare facility needs to prioritise strategic partnerships and collaborations in order to successfully implement digital health technologies.

The types of partnerships vary, but many leaders identified the value of working with non-traditional players such as technology companies, as well as more typical partners such as other hospitals or practices.

When considering potential partnerships, healthcare leaders consider those with a proven track record in implementing new technologies and improving interoperability.

They see partnerships with organisations sharing these qualities as an important way to encourage new ideas and ways of working to develop in their hospital or healthcare facility.

Sustainability makes dramatic climb up the healthcare agenda

The pandemic has sparked a huge rise in the volume of single-use personal protective equipment and critical medical supplies, and this may be encouraging a reappraisal of the industry’s impact on the wider ecosystem.

Today, as healthcare leaders continue to battle the pandemic, sustainability in healthcare is taking a back seat, with only four per cent of healthcare leaders saying that implementing sustainability practices in their hospital or healthcare facility is a primary priority today.

However, 58 per cent say that implementing sustainability practices in their hospital or healthcare facility will be a priority three years from now.

This has big implications for the whole healthcare value chain.

When considering technology providers, many healthcare leaders considered long-lasting design of products, circular economy business models, and health and safety practices as important sustainability actions that act as a clear differentiator.

The years ahead will be rife with challenges. Healthcare leaders will need to manage the continued impact of the pandemic, tackling the enormous backlog of delayed procedures while dealing with intermittent influxes of COVID-19 cases.

They will need to prepare for the next pandemic, while also continuously improving care for our growing and ageing populations with increasing comorbidities.

What’s clear is that healthcare leaders understand these challenges, and are committed to building a future that is sustainable, adaptable and resilient.

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