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For healthcare systems, 2022 proved to be another challenging year thanks to the ongoing aftershocks of a pandemic that has irrevocably changed the business of healthcare. Obstacles included supply chain challenges, healthcare worker labor shortages, inflationary cost pressures, and increasing competition from retail and big tech. 

Looking ahead, evolving industry drivers will continue to present new and ongoing challenges as well as opportunities for innovation and growth. 

So, what does 2023 hold?

Healthcare democratization

No other year has witnessed greater acceleration in the democratization of healthcare than 2022. Big tech and retailers both made significant investments into their healthcare business, such as Amazon's purchase of One Medical for $4 billion and CVS's purchase of Signify Health for $8 billion.

With deep pockets and technology stacks free of decades-long interoperability challenges, these nontraditional entrants are gearing up to capture healthcare consumers who want more affordable, convenient and timely care closer to home. An increasing number of healthcare consumers will choose retail health for their primary care needs as resource-strapped health systems deliver unsatisfactory in-person and digital experiences.

More than 90 percent of Americans live within 10 miles of a Walmart, while 70 percent live within three miles of a CVS. Meanwhile, 150 million are Amazon subscribers. Retailers and big tech plan to convert these consumers to their healthcare business by offering convenient locations, virtual care, extended hours, affordability, timeliness, and a superior user experience via their digital health offerings. These disrupters will appeal to younger, healthy patients, leaving health systems caring for a disproportionate number of sicker, higher cost patients.

But it's not all bad news for health systems. These nontraditional healthcare entrants will be providing low-acuity services. They will not be providing advanced diagnostics, procedures, surgeries or highly subspecialized care. They will need to figure out how to facilitate timely referrals and care escalation (or else they'll face substantial medico-legal risk and disenfranchised consumers).  

Fortunately, health systems are in the business of specialty care and high revenue services. I predict that new entrants and health systems will learn to be frenemies who collaborate and partner to survive.

Intelligent automation

Healthcare organizations have been declaring automation a top priority ever since "EHR" became a commonly used term. Likewise, clinician and staff outcry about time spent on repetitive, burdensome tasks in EHR and practice management applications began almost instantaneously with the advent of these tools. Despite billions of dollars invested in digital health solutions over the past twelve years, with startup venture funding alone accounting for $66 billion, investment in tools that automate and simplify work will only increase in the foreseeable future.

Healthcare worker shortages, including burnt-out nurses and physicians, worsened in 2022 and show no signs of slowing down. Faced with a scarcity of human resources and ongoing financial woes, healthcare leaders will double down on investments that remove routine, repetitive tasks from the plates of clinical and operational staff in 2023.

CIOs will continue implementing new solutions for simple automation, such as robotic process automation (RPA) and business process management tools. Investment in more sophisticated solutions (e.g., artificial intelligence (AI)) will continue into 2023, but IT leaders will seek solutions with accelerated time-to-value. Although big data analytics and insights will remain a top priority, healthcare organizations are increasingly interested in AI to augment and accelerate traditionally manual tasks. There will be increased adoption of AI and machine learning tools like ambient voice, NLP and computer vision across the enterprise, including call centers, registration, emergency rooms and ORs.

Asset management

The prevention and mitigation of cybersecurity attacks were top of mind for healthcare systems in 2022. An overwhelming majority of hacked organizations reported attacks resulting in longer hospital stays, delayed diagnostic and therapeutic services, data inaccessibility, and overall poorer patient outcomes, including increased mortality. Security leaders will continue to bolster resiliency and recovery capabilities

A greater focus on asset management will emerge in healthcare. With the surge of IoT devices, most of which are not typically designed with security in mind, health systems face significantly increased vulnerability to cyberattacks that can have a serious impact on patients. 

Organizations will need to invest in managing clinical assets with novel risk scenarios associated with new digital interdependencies. The surge in FDA-regulated clinical IoT devices (e.g., remote monitors and automated pumps) poses a great risk, particularly as these assets are unmanaged and more vulnerable than managed hardware because they cannot be guarded with traditional security tools, like agents and scans. In addition to clinical assets, the myriad of non-clinical IoT devices within the hospital walls, such as registration kiosks and smart cameras, also pose a significant patient risk as their performance is crucial to dependent clinical applications.

Digital transformation in healthcare has increased the push for IoT technology. It will be important for health systems to develop a solid asset visibility and management strategy moving forward to support these investments.

Personalized care experience

While companies like Netflix, Amazon and Spotify have mastered consumer personalization to transform their businesses, healthcare lags woefully behind. Personalization of the healthcare experience, once viewed as an impossibility, appears within reach. This is especially true for newer healthcare entrants, like retailers aspiring to safely leverage the power of IoT, AI and real-time location tracking to deliver actionable insights to consumers entering their stores (e.g., a generic flu shot reminders or a condition-specific alert to purchase supplements and supplies).

Unlike their retail and big box counterparts, however, health systems are wading through post-pandemic financial and operational distress and decades of technology challenges and siloed data. As they continue to work through these barriers to unlock the power of data within their enterprises, mounting pressure to grow (or at least retain) marketshare will push them to harness that data to better customize the consumer and patient experience.

To capture new patients in an increasingly competitive market, organizations will need to differentiate themselves within diverse populations by segmenting their outreach strategy by factors like age, ethnicity, gender, language and, in some cases, the consumer's behavior while engaging with their digital assets. 

The pivot from a one-size-fits-all engagement strategy to a more customized approach is on par with the consumer experience within retail, hospitality and entertainment industries. Similarly, to retain existing patients while improving the cost of care, organizations will continue to invest in technologies that help aggregate and interpret vast amounts of patient data within their walls to deliver a more personalized, equitable and convenient journey.

Let's plan for 2023 together.