Key Takeaways from HIMSS 2021 Conference

Although the HIMSS Global Conference in Las Vegas the week of 8/9 – 8/13 was sparsely attended, there was a wealth of information shared throughout the week on the current and future state of the industry. After attending numerous education sessions and speaking with industry leaders and vendors there were several clear threads present throughout the conference.

What we heard

Whether we are ready for it or not, with the increased adoption of telemedicine and new entrants to the healthcare market, consumerism has become a strong driving force for innovation and competition in the marketplace. We are seeing an influx of non-healthcare entities, such as Amazon and Walmart and payers like Aetna, entering the market to provide direct healthcare services to patients. These entities are leveraging their adjacent industry and technology experience to bring competition for patients via marketing and strong user interfaces.

To compound this issue, we are continuing to see a massive shortage of primary care providers across the nation, with an estimated deficit of 122,000 providers. Rural areas are hit hardest, with nearly 63% of the shortages impacting rural areas.

What this means for clients and consumers

As called out by Joe DeVivo of Teladoc in his speech with Rose Ghattas of Blessing Health on school-based health in a rural setting, the initial utilization and subsequent adoption of telehealth was driven by patient fear. After being driven to telehealth solutions, patients have realized the benefits that telehealth can provide, while also continuing to receive high quality care. Col. Thomas Cantilina, MD of CHIO of MHS, expanded on this topic, with a reminder that although we are changing the venue of care, we need to remain focused on the purpose of the patient encounter, which is to improve the wellness of a patient.

Due to the PCP shortage and services such as Amazon Care and Aetna’s Virtual Primary Care, traditional healthcare entities are seeing patients leave for those new options as a first choice of care. This is due to the ease and speed of access that these entities provide, coupled with the aggressive marketing and pricing models they offer.

What should health systems do now?

Health systems must react to these threats by matching the tactics employed by the new entrants to the market by increasing the ease of access and reducing the barriers to care. Health systems must also utilize their knowledge and partnerships in the local community through a hub-and-spoke model of integration via telehealth as opposed to just a basic extension of services. This will not only set the health system apart from services like Amazon Care, but also will increase patient accessibility by leveraging the interoperability and care continuity of these partnerships.

To improve the patient experience while growing the virtual offerings available to patients, organizations must take a strategic and proven approach to implementation and optimization. As shown by Najib Brahim of Ignis and Emily Warr of MUSC, a strong framework, such as Telehealth Project Management Solution (TSIM), can greatly assist in the ability to strategically implement and optimize a successful virtual solution.

Lastly, healthcare systems must look to increase their marketing directed toward acquiring and retaining patients. In parallel to this initiative, health systems must increase their patient education initiatives. The health education should not just focus on the traditional topic of wellness, but also around increasing patients’ comfort and familiarity with the technology utilized to facilitate virtual care.