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Embracing innovation to transform health care

Commentary
Article

Let’s look at key considerations for health care leaders as they invest in innovation.

Maria Ansari, MD, FACC

Maria Ansari, MD, FACC

The health care industry is on a transformative journey, propelled by several diverse, yet parallel factors, including greater patient expectations, new competition and rapid technological advancement.

Patients now expect health care to operate like other industries, providing services where, when and how they want them. Several new players, including CVS and Amazon, have stepped in to meet these expectations, thereby creating new competition for traditional health care systems and setting a higher bar for delivering care on demand.

At the same time, revolutionary medical inventions, such as powerful AI-driven tools, robotic surgery systems, wearable devices, hologram hospitals and 3D printing offer up seemingly endless new possibilities for advancing care delivery.

To navigate this era of seismic change and disruption, health care organizations continually turn to technology, recognizing the power it has to deliver both better care and competitive advantage. A report from Bain & Company shows that digital transformation has become a top-three strategic priority for almost 40% of health care organizations surveyed and a top-five priority for nearly 80%. This year, more than 95% of them expect to make new software investments, with one-third planning significant new investments.

Before investing in technology, however, it’s important to understand which technologies will enhance health care delivery and offer the greatest benefits to patients, and then prioritize spending based on this information. Let’s look at key considerations for health care leaders as they invest in innovation in this new arena:

Prioritize Higher Quality Care with Greater Access and Convenience

With a staggering number of next-generation health care solutions entering the market each year and a persistent level of hype around their potential, health care leaders can become quickly overwhelmed by choice and “Fear of Missing Out.” More than 50% of those surveyed for Bain’s report said they are struggling with the magnitude of offerings. For many, their technology infrastructures have become overloaded since the pandemic, and they’re confused about how new additions will fit.

They are smart to consider which innovations align with actual organizational goals. For most health care practices, providing better care and making it easier for patients to access that care are among the top objectives. Technology can help by expanding what is currently possible and making care delivery more connected, convenient and accessible.

The Joint Commission and National Quality Forum recently recognized a solution that exemplifies this sort of investment, Kaiser Permanente Northern California’s Advance Alert Monitor (AAM) program, an early detection system that helps care teams predict when hospitalized patients are at risk for clinical deterioration. Developed by physician researchers at Kaiser Permanente Northern California’s Division of Research, the solution uses a predictive algorithm to scan nearly 100 elements from patient health records, hourly, at 21 hospitals in Northern California. It provides clinicians a heads up 12 hours in advance of clinical deterioration, permitting early detection and intervention.

Analysis published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that AAM was responsible for preventing on average 520 deaths per year in KP Northern California hospitals. Its use also showed a lower incidence of intensive care unit admissions and shorter hospital stays by equipping physicians with information and helping patients get faster access to care.

Other ways AI-driven tools support both clinicians and patients include reading risk-related imaging biomarkers on screening images to predict cancer risk, predicting disease trajectories, and remotely monitoring vital signs to manage chronic conditions. New generative AI technologies offer support by freeing clinicians’ time for patient care. For example, by automating time-consuming tasks such as documentation, AI can enable physicians to focus more on patients instead of the computer screen during office visits. According to McKinsey and Company, generative AI alone can unlock $1 trillion of improvement potential in health care.

These powerful technologies, and others like them, are game changers for patients, for saving lives, and for the physicians and clinicians who use these resources to deliver better care.

Embrace Change, Ensure Agility

Pursuing innovation requires health care organizations to overcome significant hurdles, such as siloed thinking and fear of change, as well as external factors including economic uncertainty, inflation and pressing workforce shortages. It may require changing how they currently prevent, diagnose, monitor and treat to enable breakthrough performance.

Despite the challenges, health care organizations need to fearlessly pursue change that leads to higher levels of excellence. This requires incorporating innovation into business models by first asking important questions, including: How can we improve our operations? How can we make sure our patients are heard? How can we alleviate physician burnout? And how can we empower our physicians and clinicians to work together as teams to deliver next-level care?

Continual improvement requires addressing these questions in a very intentional way, with a high speed of execution. For example, we can improve our operations, address patients’ desire for more convenient and accessible care and empower teams to deliver next-level care without burnout by delivering more care via remote patient monitoring and advanced-care-at-home initiatives.

Technology will continue to evolve the health care industry, offering better ways of caring for patients and running the business of care. Organizations need to remain agile in anticipating and adjusting their strategies and practices to take advantage of innovation, leveraging it to meet the changing needs of its patients, physicians and staff, and empowering each to bring unique value and perspective to the table.

Maria Ansari, MD, FACC, is the CEO and executive director of The Permanente Medical Group (TPMG) and president and CEO of the Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group (MAPMG), two of the largest and most accomplished medical groups in the nation. Together, TPMG and MAPMG have more than 11,000 physicians and 45,000 staff delivering high-quality health care to more than 5.4 million Kaiser Permanente members in Northern California, Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

Dr. Ansari is also co-CEO of The Permanente Federation, a consortium of all the Permanente Medical Groups in the nation. The Federation supports the work of nearly 24,000 Permanente physicians and 80,000 staff who serve 12.7 million Kaiser Permanente members.

Previously, Dr. Ansari had served as the physician-in-chief for the Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Medical Center since 2014. Under her transformational leadership, Kaiser Permanente San Francisco designed and implemented numerous advances in medical practice in primary care and specialty care by empowering physicians and staff to create and sustain a culture of trust, innovation, and teamwork. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she was the chief medical office liaison to the San Francisco Department of Public Health COVID Vaccine Taskforce.

Dr. Ansari has served on the boards of directors for TPMG and MAPMG, and she continues to serve on the San Francisco General Hospital Foundation Board.

Dr. Ansari became chief of the Cardiology Department at Kaiser Permanente San Francisco in 2007, and she has also served as chair of chiefs of cardiology at regional and national levels.

Originally from Michigan, Dr. Ansari earned her Bachelor of Science and medical degree and completed her residency in Internal Medicine at the University of Michigan. She completed a cardiology fellowship at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), and is a graduate of the Kaiser Permanente Executive Leadership Program from Harvard Business School.

Dr. Ansari is a fellow of the American College of Cardiology, a member of the American Society of Echocardiography, and an assistant clinical professor of medicine at UCSF.

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