Disruptive Trends in Healthcare: The Rise of Omnichannel Care is Forcing Healthcare Evolution

Omni-channel Healthcare graphic with multiple icons swarming around a tablet in a healtcare workers hands.

By Shelly Carolan, Michael Castleman and Susan Snyder

Multiple disruptive trends continue to alter the healthcare landscape

Identifying the leadership qualities, skills and vision required to navigate these trends necessitates insight into the trends themselves. As part of our series on disruptive trends in healthcare, we previously provided our perspective on the changing provider landscape and the consumerization of care. In this article, we’ll look at the ways providers increasingly deliver health-related services to patients through a variety of in-person and digital channels that depend on data as the integrating element – the surge in omnichannel healthcare delivery and its impact on healthcare organizations and their leaders.

Setting the Stage

In writing about the Consumerization of Care, we highlighted growing consumer expectations of anytime/anywhere healthcare access, coupled with price transparency and engagement models that emphasize “consumer-friendly.” Concurrently, reimbursement shifts towards value-based care demand alternative approaches to monitoring, diagnostic and treatment modalities that similarly depend on meeting patients where they are and when they are. 

The rapidly evolving omnichannel approach to healthcare, and the corresponding increase in investment by healthcare organizations, is the response to these converging trends. Omnichannel care refers to the array of channels used to communicate and interact with healthcare consumers. These channels include both the digital and physical, and both provider-managed and self-managed. These channels are increasingly interconnected and enabled by multiple technologies that combine to offer new care methods and experience opportunities.

Technological advances – communications, data management and analytics, miniaturization, sensing, genetic coding and advanced diagnostics, to name a few – create unique opportunities to assess and interact with healthcare consumers before direct acute or emergent care is required. Wellness and disease prevention have long been known to be essential to lowering the cost of healthcare and improving patient outcomes. But never before has behavioral data (via retail purchasing and consumer tech) been so readily available to support education, assessment and engagement – all without materially altering consumer routines in ways that inhibit adoption. As a result, mega-retailers are leveraging their loyal (and data rich!) customer bases, expansive reach and financial might to employ unique strategies to quickly become large players in omnichannel care and impact consumer approaches to health and wellness.

Omnichannel Care Delivery and Technologies

Healthcare providers continue to push care out of traditional acute care settings (see Changing Provider Landscape), transitioning toward more omnichannel care approaches. New capabilities and strategies allow for multi-directional interaction including tech-enabled care coordination, personalization through advanced content management and insights through AI, 24/7 access models and even social media that use peer-to-peer influence.

The power of machine learning and AI cannot be overstated when it comes to empowering care organizations to provide highly targeted and individualized care for patients. By drawing on vast sets of data and translating that data into meaningful insights, providers can offer the most effective care solutions for each individual patient. Integrated data access allows providers to see more patients, with more intelligence to support them, while decreasing congestion and creating more efficient care structures. Similarly, smart education engines can be built off the same data to allow patients to engage in higher levels of preventive or supplemental care for themselves or loved ones, while eliminating excessive demands on provider resources (e.g., via repeat visits or re-admits).

Purchasing, planning and payment options will increase even further thanks to the growing number of consumer technologies, online resources and tech-enabled services that are being brought to the market by retailers like Amazon, Walmart, CVS and Walgreens. (See Consumerization of Care.)

Impact on Existing Healthcare Ecosystem

Omnichannel healthcare providers, such as the mega-retailers named above, have a multi-variable focus on convenience, enablement, access and cost. They are increasing the availability of primary care services and expanding into specialty services, such as urgent care and lab testing. They readily test and implement new technologies, such as telemedicine and apps, to make healthcare services easier to access, faster to roll out and more cost-effective to maintain.

In response, hospitals and health systems are adapting their strategies. They are expanding services and networks to include not just urgent care but primary care and specialty care, as well. They also are investing in technologies, such as telemedicine, mobile apps and online portals, to provide more convenient and inclusive access. Furthermore, to differentiate from the competition, health systems are focusing on improving customer service and patient experience. The continued emergence of Chief Innovation Officers, Chief Strategy Officers and Chief Transformation Officers reflects the systems’ acknowledgement of the need to evolve. Typically, systems task these leaders with creating cultures of innovation across the system, accelerating research and development, expanding partnership and collaboration within and outside the system, and, in some cases, managing investments in technology, experience or service providers. They also oversee efforts to harness the ingenuity and creativity of team members to improve operations and clinical care, including “distributed care” investments aimed at supporting coordination and delivery of care outside of the hospital and “clinical workforce stabilization” efforts aimed at aggregating and more efficiently leveraging credentialed clinical staff across the full continuum of care.

Despite the rapid adoption of new strategies/technologies forced by the pandemic, pushback remains against their long-term, permanent adoption as part of the ongoing continuum of care. As with many things governing approaches to care, reimbursement models (both private and government) ultimately are either drivers or impediments to the widespread adoption of new care models. Specifically, in the context of digital care models, such as telehealth, key questions remain as to how payers will reimburse for these services under both fee-for-service and value-based care paradigms. However, the adoption of new technologies within healthcare ultimately will be a function of consumer demand and data on quality of care derived from provider access, focus and efficacy. The clock will not turn back. As an example, some mega-retailers are finding ways to collaborate with payers to offer co-branded managed care contracts partially tied to data and analytics support for their providers. 

One thing is becoming clear – innovation of healthcare will not be through disintermediation but rather by enabling partners across the ecosystem. Omnichannel healthcare providers are driving a significant evolution in the way traditional healthcare systems operate, requiring changes not only in strategy but also in leadership behavior and culture.

Leadership Implications

In today’s omnichannel healthcare environment, healthcare leadership teams face the challenge of adapting their strategy to thrive in a complex and constantly evolving system. This requires great agility at the individual, executive team and organizational cultural levels. 

  • Individual: The degree of change in the healthcare business model, happening concurrently with provider burnout and extreme financial pressure, requires significant strategic agility as well as personal resilience from individual executives. In essence, they must simultaneously deliver positive outcomes for their patients, retain and motivate an exhausted workforce, and transform the very institutions they lead. They must consistently re-assess their strategic assumptions and be willing to adopt changes to the allocation of resources, alignment of functions and responsibilities, and the role of technologies. And leaders must be adept in balancing the need to deliver optimal care and experiences (caregiver and care-receiver, alike) with the need to evolve care models through controlled experimentation and innovation. There is no playbook for these challenges.
  • Leadership Team: Although a playbook does not exist, a high-functioning team can create the innovation that no individual executive can provide (as well as the interpersonal support needed in difficult times). Different functional skills and new roles should be brought into the inner circle early to catalyze different thinking and new solutions. This necessary evolution in leadership team composition will require executives to lead and manage their teams in both more inclusive and more disciplined ways to leverage the increased diversity of thought on the team.
  • Organizational Culture: Healthcare culture is marked by a deep concern for patient care and service, an attribute to be maintained. As the landscape and strategy change, inclusive partnership across boundaries is also critical. At the foundation of true partnership are transparency, empathy and humility – traits not always quickly associated with the healthcare system. Demonstration of these traits must start at the top; this, in turn, requires leaders that understand such traits are not in conflict with strategic vision, financial discipline and operational excellence. Indeed, it is only by demonstrating both the former and the latter sets of characteristics that healthcare leaders can navigate, calibrate and coordinate the multiple constituencies needed to deliver outstanding care: physician cohorts, nurses, technologists, data scientists, patient and community advocates and external partners, alike.

As healthcare executives lead in this evolving landscape, it’s critical to evaluate the healthcare landscape holistically, with insight into how and where different organizations fit in the healthcare ecosystem and the role they will play in shaping its future. Healthcare organizations’ strategies should look to the future and prioritize creating a dynamic team that can identify these broad, integrated trends and leverage them as opportunities for growth while creating a culture that sustains it. Other important market forces that will influence that future include not only omnichannel care but also new payer and reimbursement systems. Organizations with a thorough understanding of the evolving landscape – and the ability to connect that understanding to the leadership qualities, skills and vision required to successfully navigate this evolving landscape – can best position themselves to succeed well into the future.

Disruptive Trends in Healthcare Series

View other articles in this content series on disruptive trends in healthcare by clicking the links below:

Shelly Carolan is a senior partner and practice leader in WittKieffer’s Commercial Healthcare Practice. She can be reached at scarolan@wittkieffer.com. Michael Castleman is a senior partner andWittKieffer’s chief growth & transformation officer. He can be reached at mcastleman@wittkieffer.com. Susan Snyder is a managing partner in WittKieffer’s Leadership Advisory Practice. She can be reached at ssnyder@wittkieffer.com.