‘New set of digital table stakes’: Most executives see tech as worthy investment, EY survey finds

Nearly all healthcare executives believe new digital health technologies are worth the cost, even though they have yet to see a financial return from it, a new survey reveals.

SOURCE: Fierce Healthcare

The inaugural Health Pulse Survey was conducted by Ernst & Young and reached more than 100 payer and provider administrative executives across the U.S. It found that the appetite for digital health solutions has risen, particularly since COVID-19. The pandemic was a catalyst for the industry.

“COVID prompted a lot of digital health tech investments by payers and providers—it was out of necessity,” Kaushik Bhaumik, EY’s U.S. health technology leader, told Fierce Healthcare. “People had to connect with their patients through digital channels.”

EY’s payer and provider clients told the firm that while they have invested a lot in technologies, costs of care still remain high. Most of the provider clients are losing money as a result, Bhaumik said.

“That is simply unsustainable,” he said. “They need to fundamentally restructure … to get out of the red.”

A promising way to do so is by becoming more digital, though that will inevitably take time. While technology is already making caregivers’ lives easier by giving them back time with patients, Bhaumik said tech is not yet being used to drive organizations’ top line.

More hospitals and health systems are integrating AI into processes, with 60% of executives reporting active investment in AI-based applications. Most respondents have seen substantial reductions in wasted time and financial costs as a result of AI applications, the survey found. Nine in 10 said they plan to invest more money into staffing their digital health tech teams.

Where tech is being employed often and working well is in the EHR—scheduling labs and getting results, per Bhaumik. As providers get further from the EHR, technology requires more integration. Areas like care coordination and referral management remain largely untapped opportunities, as these will take a lot more integration to go beyond point solutions for specific problems.

“There’s so much more that needs to be done,” Mallory Caldwell, EY’s Americas health leader, told Fierce Healthcare. “It’s the right thing to do; we just haven’t been able to see the financial return yet.”

Still, most executives (90%) say implementing digital health technologies has had a positive effect on operational efficiency, shifting administrative responsibilities from providers. Nearly all respondents also agree that newer technologies raise providers’ credibility. This belief is likely driven by competitive pressures such as the need to match the digital experience giants like Kaiser Permanente provide, Bhaumik said.

“In healthcare, there’s a new set of digital table stakes that everybody needs to meet,” he said.

Despite 70% of executives saying overall hospital expenses have not decreased as a result of new digital tools, nearly all (96%) believe the initial investment in tech is worth the cost, and 86% acknowledge the potential cost reduction through digital health solutions. Half say siloed tracking metrics make it difficult to monitor tech’s initial cost value to a practice.

“We believe in the future of a digitally enabled healthcare ecosystem,” Caldwell said while pointing to other industries like consumer retail as proof of concept. “You can start to have faith, and evidence that it works in other contexts, if we can apply it to the health context.”

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