The COVID-19 pandemic feels like a once-in-a-lifetime event for those of us involved in healthcare, but the patterns of how the crisis affected our industry feel familiar.
Stop me if you have heard this before: incumbent players in a broad industry made very slow and fragmented technological advances for years with no real threat to their business. Then, a sudden and transformational event catapulted direct-to-consumer technologies, forcing the incumbents to fundamentally alter their business model and rapidly adopt new technologies to catch up to consumer demand.
The scenario above describes what happened in the financial services industry on what has become known as Black Monday in 1987. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped precipitously and this event served as the turning point for improving how the financial world shared information.
I believe the COVID-19 pandemic represents the same type of watershed moment in healthcare that finally inspires a historically stagnant industry to change for the better. We have already caught a glimpse of that change with implementations such as virtual care, but I predict the industry will continue to transform.
Regulation changes can drive innovation
The events of 1987 caused financial firms to realize that the collapse may have been avoided if they had been able to share information more freely and efficiently. Stocks and bonds were traded and sold at the time by calling people on the telephone, and the most recent financial data was circulated daily in printed trade publications and the Wall Street Journal.
Despite being in the early days of the computer revolution, financial regulators responded by mandating open-source standards for financial data. That change buoyed technologies such as the Bloomberg Terminal, a software system that replaced print publications with digitized financial data, and brought a new level of transparency and efficiency to the industry. More than 30 years later, we can thank those same open-source mandates for the mobile banking applications we use on our smartphones every day.
Healthcare has an opportunity for a similar boon from open-source data standards. When Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) enacted the Interoperability and Patient Access Final Rule in 2020, it represented a step in the right direction of empowering patients with access to their medical data. By continuing to free the data locked in legacy electronic health record (EHR) systems, healthcare can transform just like financial services. This will provide healthcare consumers with the same conveniences they enjoy with mobile banking and investing apps like Venmo and Robinhood.
Healthcare must “consumerize”
Nearly every industry has transformed to adapt to consumer trends, but the entertainment industry is a particularly interesting case study. A few short years ago, we consumed our entertainment via cable television and movies on DVD. Netflix broke that mold with a direct-to-consumer model—evolving from DVDs sent in the mail to movies and shows streamed online—that completely revolutionized how we consume media. They built a new experience centered around the consumer and mastered the art of engaging their customers. Once Netflix transitioned to streaming, the reach of its platform exploded and touched its consumers on smartphones, smart TVs and tablets.
The patient experience in healthcare today, which still relies on clunky software and archaic fax machines, feels like watching my grandparents’ black-and-white TV when what I really want is Netflix.
An integrated platform approach is the solution
Healthcare technology consists mostly of individual point solutions for specific purposes. EHR vendors make an EHR solution; patient engagement software providers specialize in engaging the patient; and so forth. That limited range has negatively affected the consumer experience, forcing healthcare providers and pharmacies to fill gaps with multiple narrow solutions.
However, the common thread among the technologies that “consumerized” other industries is their ability to tie capabilities together in a singular platform. Most of us only utilize one or two different applications for things like banking and ride-sharing. When platforms emerge in healthcare and replace the jumble of point solutions that exist today, it will create a consumer experience that is as easy and convenient as hailing a ride on Uber. We won’t have a sea of applications dedicated to chronic condition care and another set of choices for pharmacy management, for instance. Those capabilities will be tied together through a platform solution.
We’re past the turning point
Innovation in healthcare technology is unfolding so rapidly that we would need a time machine to keep pace with the demand. In an industry that moved too slowly for too long, the COVID-19 pandemic has provided healthcare with the same kind of push that jolted the financial industry in 1987. That response led to a sustained bull market for decades after the stock market crash, and I have confidence we will see a similar era of prosperity in healthcare—driven by improved patient data access that revolutionizes the consumer experience. This revolution is already in motion. The choice is to embrace change that prioritizes health consumers or risk becoming obsolete.
About Mike Serbinis
Mike Serbinis is the co-founder and CEO of League, a technology-focused health company powering the digital transformation of healthcare.