Four ‘Must Have’ Competencies For Post-Pandemic Competitive Advantage

By Monica E. Oss

We’ve covered the “triple whammy” of the pandemic on next normal health care—shifting competition based on changing consumer expectations, payer expectations, and price points (see Post-Pandemic, Strategy Needs Technology). I got a better sense of the market factors driving these changes—and the new competencies required for success—in a recent article, How Digital Is Changing The Pharma & Healthcare Industry, by Nikki Gilliland at Econsultancy. My takeaway is that there are four new competencies that executive teams should be thinking about to stay in the game as the effects of the pandemic digital shift become standard market factors.

To start with, the “must have” hybrid service model requires digital first consumer intake processes. For care coordination programs to be successful—and cost-effective—remote monitoring capabilities will likely be a “must have.” Another takeaway—to improve consumer engagement, social communities need to be built on and integrated into existing commercial internet platforms. And finally, without a robust web presence and expertise in search engine optimization, competing for referrals will be increasingly difficult. These are the next frontiers in organizational infrastructure for competitive advantage—and I’m adding them to my specialty provider organization competency map (see From Crisis To Growth: A New Leadership Mindset).

Digital first consumer intake/interface is critical to success with hybrid models. The pandemic has moved much of care delivery to virtual. But as we move to the post-pandemic landscape, the preferred service delivery modality is a combination of virtual and in-person care in clinics and in consumers’ homes. Recent research confirms this preference—in a national survey, more than 40% of consumers said that when it comes to mental health and routine care, they’d rather access services virtually or through a combination of virtual and in-person visits (see Post-Pandemic, Majority Of Patients Say They Prefer In-Person Care, Survey Finds). And a Healthgrades study found that when given a choice between health care providers with similar experience, proximity, availability, and patient satisfaction ratings, the vast majority of consumers—81% for primary care and 77% for specialists—choose the provider who offers online scheduling (see Specialty Care Strategy For A Tech-Enabled Future).

To make hybrid services an operational reality at scale, provider organization executive teams should develop a digital first consumer intake process with a well-designed “digital front door.” This intake process should include real-time appointment scheduling that is linked to both benefits eligibility information and the schedules of clinical team members. Many components of the digital front door, including online scheduling, can likely be built into existing EHR systems but standalone technology platforms are also available and can be integrated with current technology platforms.

Best practice care coordination will require leveraging personalized remote monitoring. Care coordination and case management services are slowly moving to risk-based and value-based reimbursement models—with reimbursement tied to outcomes. To be competitive in this market space, provider organization managers will likely need to deploy a coordinated suite of tech-enabled functionality. What does that look like? Decision support tools for care coordinators, driven by consumer data. Smartphone-based outreach to consumers for active monitoring, self-care supports, and engagement. Passive remote monitoring tools for staying on top of consumer health status over time. Market advantage will go to the organizations that can reduce costs by leveraging their clinical workforce with technology, while managing and optimizing performance and consumer outcomes.

Consumer engagement success will depend on strategies to build specialized social communities on existing platforms. Consumer engagement and participation in managing their health is key to making value-based reimbursement work. The question for clinical management teams is how to connect with those consumers. There are many standalone consumer web portals, discussion boards, blogs, and more. But getting traction with those standalone initiatives is difficult. Rather, consumers are likely to discuss issues and seek health care information, opinions, and suggestions from channels they are already active on. Provider organizations should consider facilitating social networks on existing platforms for their consumers and encouraging staff to weigh in on these online communities to share expertise when appropriate.

Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube (and to a lesser extent, LinkedIn), as well as messaging apps like What’s App and WeChat (in China) host consumer and caregiver groups with interest in specific conditions and treatments. Some of the newer apps for behavior-based chronic disease management also include a social component to let consumers engage with peers. But most consumer and professional engagement communities are web-based—they can be found through simple online searches and accessed with a web browser, while they also maintain a presence on all the major social media platforms. A Pew Research survey indicated that 26% of adult internet users had read or watched someone else’s health experience about health or medical issues in the past 12 months. And 16% of adult internet users in the U.S. go online to find others who share the same health concerns (see The Social Life Of Health Information).

There are a number of existing online communities. For example, MedHelp has communities for mental health, general health, diabetes, heart disease, pregnancy, and coronavirus. PsychU offers information, resources, and collaboration and discussion platforms on challenges and treatment approaches for mental health professionals. Verywell Mind offers consumer-friendly information, generated by clinical professionals, on a range of mental health topics. And, HealthUnlocked offers technology to build health communities and is available free to nonprofits, health advocates, and consumer organizations to start new communities.

Web presence and SEO expertise are needed to compete for customer eyeballs. As care becomes increasingly virtual, referrals will become increasingly virtual. Today, 13% to 17% of visits across all of health care are conducted via telehealth—which is 38 times higher than pre-pandemic use of virtual care (see Telehealth: A Quarter-Trillion-Dollar Post-COVID-19 Reality?). Prior to the pandemic, 67% of consumers searched for health care information online and 60% searched for provider reviews online (see Digital Health Consumer Adoption Report 2020). The pandemic has likely increased this consumer behavior and will also likely change the nature of professional referrals.

As executive teams consider whether their current website and web presence is an impediment to success or an asset, there are some basic questions to ask. Is the website content, user experience, search engine performance, and online reputation strategy meeting current consumer and referral source expectations? (For more, see our on-demand OPEN MINDS Circle Executive Roundtable Session, Designing Best In Class Websites: The OPEN MINDS Website Evaluation & Improvement Process.) The answers will drive strategies for enhancing the online brand presence, upgrading web site design and content, evaluating paid web advertising options to be “found” in web searches, and linking content to social platforms in order to increase reach to consumers and health plan partners.

The bottom line? To meet the preferences of consumers  and health plans—and succeed with new reimbursement rates and models—executive teams need to make a few additions to their “core competencies.” This will involve broader planning of infrastructure, both technology and human. The key question is not “What technology should we invest in?” but rather to define how technology can help to drive strategic objectives.

For more on the organizational competencies needed for strategic success, check out these resources: