The explosion of technologies that "connect" consumers online has shaped business models and created entirely new ways in which people network, socialize, and conduct business. E-mail, video conferencing, online retail, Google, LinkedIn, and YouTube have transformed our daily interactions with other people and the way we operate business. Ultimately, these same technologies will not only transform healthcare, but the way physicians and hospitals align to deliver care.
Consumers have demanded an enormous amount from the Internet in a short period of time. In the U.S. alone, online retail is estimated to have grown from virtually nothing a decade ago to over $130 billion a year. Consumers now routinely purchase products, pay bills, download statements, and make dinner or concert reservations online.
Although healthcare delivery has been slower to transform, many e-applications are in everyday. Among them are:
Consumers will expect electronic delivery of healthcare advice and the ability to schedule services, access test results and reports, request refills, make inquiries, and dialogue with caregivers.
For certain conditions and patients, an entire episode of care may be electronic. It will include an e-inquiry into the primary care physician, followed by the medical issue identification question and answer process, to obtaining an e-consultation from a specialist, with relevant data transmitted back to the PCP and patient.
In addition to such transactions, online consumers will increasingly research the quality of providers. They will also want to socially network with their providers, either through medical blogs, online support groups, or social networking sites. Consumers will be comforted by watching YouTube-style videos of their providers performing the latest medical techniques and therapeutic applications. Healthcare providers without this virtual presence will suffer competitively.
As a result, applications such as community-oriented medical blogs, online support groups, video-based supplements, on-demand health advice, personal health records, and transactional applications will thrive. They will not only help to cement the bond between patient, physician, and hospital, but play an important role in broadening thinking regarding hospital and physician alignment strategies.
Moving forward, many alignment strategies will be a triad of hospital-physician-patient. They will be linked through systems designed to achieve clinically effective, efficient, informed, and safe care.
Recognizing this, Title XIII of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (a part of the recently enacted stimulus bill) provides funding and incentives for the development, adoption, and upgrade of health information technology. The intent is to build a nationwide infrastructure that exchanges standardized health information, encourages the use of electronic health records, and trains clinicians on best practices.
As the options for "joint venture" types of hospital-physician alignment vehicles are defined through such legislation and regulation, taking ownership of the process to deploy these technologies presents an important opportunity to involve and align physicians and hospitals in a meaningful way.
The ability of the solo or small physician group to develop a comprehensive patient connectivity platform is relatively small. Therefore, it is incumbent for healthcare organizations to take proactive ownership of the process to build such platforms. In addition to serving as the foundation for a more highly integrated delivery system, the platform can reach out to patients and elevate their ties to both the healthcare organization and its individual clinicians.
Conceptually, the term "hospital-physician alignment" will give way to the term "hospital-physician-patient alignment," under which strategies and action plans are implemented to align the interest and needs of the hospital, physician, and the patient.
How these new affiliations mature will be just one component in a much larger strategy to reinvent healthcare delivery.