Posted: 12 Jul. 2022 6 min. read

Is digital the answer to better health, happier staff?

By Jay Bhatt, D.O., executive director of the Deloitte Health Equity Institute and the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, Deloitte Services, LP, and Marc Perlman, managing director, Deloitte Consulting LLP

We recently attended the Scottsdale Institute’s annual conference in Arizona with several of our colleagues. The theme of this year’s conference was Health care’s digital race.

Last fall, the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions collaborated with the Scottsdale Institute to explore how hospitals and health systems are using digital technology to transform care (see our report, Digital transformation in health care). We found that a growing number of hospital and health system leaders see digital transformation as essential for enhancing the consumer experience and improving patient outcomes while also ushering their organization’s operations and culture into the future.

During the conference, several panelists acknowledged that many hospitals and health systems have incorporated digital technologies into a wide range of areas—from electronic health record (EHR) systems to artificial intelligence (AI). However, such digital components are often added piecemeal. For hospitals and health systems to compete in the digital race, each digital component should be integrated throughout the organization. At the same time, the traditional health care business model should adapt to the digital model.

There are parallels between this transition and ‘Turning the Flywheel,’ a concept described by business researcher and author, Jim Collins. He noted that it takes a tremendous amount of coordination and energy to get a heavy flywheel spinning. However, once the massive metal disk is in motion, only minimal energy is needed to keep it moving or to increase its speed. Similarly, changing the health care business model will likely require a tremendous amount of coordination and energy. It will likely require integration so that each component works with each of the other components to achieve the same goal. Combining in-person care with virtual care, for example, could lead to superior patient outcomes, but only if those two components work together and are managed effectively. Some states issued temporary rules in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that made it easier for patients to seek virtual health services from out-of-state clinicians. Making those rules permanent could help remove friction.

Here are three important themes that were discussed at this year’s conference:

  • The workforce: Recruiting and retaining employees has long been a challenge for hospitals and health systems. The COVID-19 pandemic made it even more difficult. (See our report, Employee health contributes to organizational health). Employment in the health care sector has dropped by 524,000 since February 2020, and about 16% of hospitals have reported critical staffing shortages. Moreover, about 50% of surveyed nurses said they felt overwhelmed, anxious, and irritable during the pandemic.1 Some panelists at the conference noted that resiliency is being challenged because younger nurses often can’t bounce back as quickly as more seasoned staff. Nearly 18% of new nurses leave their first job within one year.2 Hospital and health system leaders should look for ways digital technology could take on some of administrative and menial tasks so clinical staff can spend more time interacting directly with patients. This could help relieve stress and improve care delivery and staffing models. One panelist noted that trust has a direct relationship to staff satisfaction and turnover. Hospital and health system leaders should try to instill a sense of trust and help their workers feel they are treated fairly. Leadership should also pay close attention to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I). This topic was interwoven into virtually every session at this conference. People who perceive their employer isn’t paying attention to DE&I are four-times more likely to look for another job, according to one panelist (see US health care can't afford health inequities).
  • Digital health investments: Several panelists noted that private-equity investments in digital health care was driving change in the sector. The Deloitte Center for Health Solutions recently analyzed health tech investment trends and conducted interviews with a diverse set of leaders from health care organizations, health tech innovators (startups), and investors (see New business models in health care: Building platform-enabled ecosystems). Many venture capitalists, private equity, health care organizations, and other investors have already begun investing in startups that call themselves platforms. In addition, large tech-enabled platform companies could help hospitals and health systems improve efficiencies and scale quickly. These hyper-scalers could help modernize existing systems and delivery models and address health-equity through a platform approach.
  • Mental health: There was some discussion about whether mental health should be integrated into primary care. Mental health is often a comorbidity among patients who have a chronic condition. Digital health—integrated with primary in-person care—could extend the reach of clinicians and help them provide more effective physical and mental health care. It also could make collaborations among clinicians easier (see our report on the growing market for mobile mental health apps).

We are in the middle of health care’s digital race. But this race is a marathon, not a sprint. A majority of hospital and health system leaders (60%) are only midway through their digital transformation, according to our survey. Many of them admit the journey is taking longer than they expected. Once organizations near the finish line, the impact of digital transformation will be felt across all aspects of health care—from improved operational and financial efficiencies to stronger relationships with patients and communities.

This publication contains general information only and Deloitte is not, by means of this publication, rendering accounting, business, financial, investment, legal, tax, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such professional advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified professional advisor.

Deloitte shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person who relies on this publication.

Endnotes:

Thousands of nurses are still stressed, frustrated and overwhelmed almost 2 years in the pandemic, American Nurses Foundation, August 2020

2 New-nurse turnover is common, healthleaders, June 28, 2021

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Jay Bhatt

Jay Bhatt

Executive Director, Deloitte Center for Health Solutions & Deloitte Health Equity Institute

Jay Bhatt, D.O., MPH, MPA is a physician executive, internist, geriatrician, and public health innovator. As Executive Director of the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions (DCHS) and the Deloitte Health Equity Institute (DHEI), Dr. Bhatt directs the research, insights, and eminence agenda across the life sciences and health care industry while driving high-impact collaborations to advance health equity. He is a prominent thought leader around the issues of health equity, health care transformation, public health, and innovation. Passionate about patient care, Dr. Bhatt will continue practicing medicine at local community health centers in Chicago and Cook County while serving in his leadership role at Deloitte. Prior to joining Deloitte, Dr. Bhatt was senior vice president and chief medical officer at the American Hospital Association. While there, in addition to his enterprise role, he served as president of the Health Research and Educational Trust and helped lead the Institute for Diversity and Health Equity. His early work in health care involved practicing primary care at Erie Family Health Center, sitting on faculty at Northwestern Medicine, acting as chief health officer of the Illinois Health and Hospital Association, and serving as managing deputy commissioner and chief innovation officer for the Chicago Department of Public Health. Dr. Bhatt earned a B.A. from the University of Chicago; Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) from Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine; Master of Public Health from the University of Illinois at Chicago; and Master of Public Administration from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government as a Zuckerman and Commonwealth Fund Minority Health Policy Fellow. He is board certified in Internal Medicine and Geriatrics. Dr. Bhatt's work has earned the attention of top media outlets seeking his expertise. He is a recipient of the Harvard Kennedy School Alumni Award, a Presidential Leadership Scholar, and an Aspen Institute Health Innovator Fellow.

Marc Perlman

Marc Perlman

Managing Director | Deloitte Consulting LLP

Marc serves as a leader in Deloitte’s Digital Care and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) practices and is a Global Business Development leader for the US member firm. With more than 35 years in the health care industry, he brings deep experience in working with payers, providers, health IT companies, health and device manufacturers, consumers, and the federal government to improve operational performance, clinical quality, patient safety, and revenue cycle performance. Marc has been engaged in multiple national healthcare interoperability strategies and deployments, software system selection, as well as alliance leadership with some of the health information technology providers globally. Marc is also experienced in the global health care market having worked closely with non-US governments, regions/provinces, health systems, payer organizations, system integrators, and vertical software companies. He has been responsible for governance on key deals for national health records programs, electronic staff records, analytics initiatives, and other key IT projects. Marc is a graduate from Drake University, where he earned his BSBS in marketing and human resource management and serves as an advisory board member for the Posse Foundation Atlanta Board, The Council for Affordable Healthcare, and USA Health Alliance.