Hospitals lose focus on patients’ digital health preferences amid growing competition, Kaufman Hall says

Dive Brief:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic spurred health systems to adopt new technologies and meet the changing needs of their patients, though much of that momentum has stalled in 2021, according to a report out Wednesday from Kaufman Hall.
  • Only 7% of the organizations Kaufman Hall surveyed scored in the first tier of its Healthcare Consumerism Index, defined as best-in-class for delivery system redesign, pricing and digital infrastructure. The vast majority of health systems surveyed either scored in the second or third tier of the index, the report found.
  • Greater focus and investment is required for hospitals to compete with heightened consumer expectations, hospital competitors and an expanding list of retail and technology companies entering the space, Kaufman Hall said.

Dive Insight:

Hospitals and health systems rapidly adapted to meet patients’ needs early in the pandemic, launching digital health platforms and telehealth services as demand for virtual care skyrocketed.

That’s since leveled off, with telehealth visits now accounting for 20% or fewer of all hospital appointments, a survey released Tuesday from KLAS Research and the Center for Connected Medicine found.

Meanwhile, digital health companies are receiving record investments while telehealth giants like Teladoc are building out through M&A. And retail mainstays like Amazon and Walmart are also putting more resources into providing healthcare for employees and consumers.

Consumers still want access to digital health tools, and have an increasing amount of options with both new and old industry players increasing their delivery presence. Traditional health systems that launched such services during the pandemic aren’t fully committing to the transformation required to deliver care exactly how consumers want to receive it though, the report found.

Researchers surveyed more than 110 executives at more than 100 hospitals and health systems across the country and found most organizations are falling short on their long-term digital health plans and capabilities for patients.

Most institutions surveyed were either in the second or third tier of Kaufman Hall’s Healthcare Consumerism Index, and those in the second tier (46%) showed a thoughtful approach to becoming more consumer-centric and are investing in system wide initiatives. Those in the third tier (39%) have strategies but are not yet building an infrastructure for sustained success.

And 7% of respondents fell in the fourth tier, meaning they were not working on any consumer-oriented strategies.

At the same time, competition from health insurance, retail and technology companies are a growing concern for hospitals and health systems. In the survey, 76% of respondents cited UnitedHealth’s Optum as a strong or extreme competitive threat, up from 67% in 2019.

One key issue systems are grappling with is exactly where their patients want to receive care, and some have developed new buildings or sites of care without researching patients’ wants and needs first, according to the report.

While 90% of respondents said they offered telehealth services and 73% provide walk-in clinics, only 37% offer at-home monitoring and only 22% offer home-based primary care, the report found.

Another issue is that hospitals’ strategies for consumer-centric care are not always delivering results. While 66% of respondents placed a high or extreme priority on redesigning and expanding digital capabilities and physician facilities, just 11% are in the first tier for providing those services.

Strategies for implementing innovative care models, partnering with outside organizations to redesign care delivery and developing consumer-focused pricing all saw similar gaps, according to the survey.

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