The COVID-19 pandemic ushered in an era of rapid innovation in digital health and the healthcare industry must leverage that momentum to create a better consumer experience, said Paul Markovich, president and CEO of Blue Shield of California.
That was the vision the nonprofit health plan executive shared at the opening keynote session at the AHIP Consumer Experience & Digital Health Forum earlier this month.
For Markovich, the old saying, “necessity is the mother of invention,” has never resonated more than those uncertain times.
“Before the pandemic, we were having lots of conversations about the adoption of tools like telehealth,” he said. “There were all these questions and hesitations, and then – bam – when there were no other options, everybody found a way to make it happen. Frankly, we need more of that.”
Markovich felt refreshed by that speedy adoption of new technology in an industry that’s largely lagged behind modern innovations. Going forward, he wants to make sure that willingness to innovate doesn’t fall by the wayside.
“There’s too much inertia, complacency, and even just outright resistance in the healthcare system to adopt new things,” he said. “We know that when we have to, we can. But if we just keep waiting for people to be ‘ready,’ we’ll never make the progress we need to make. One of the big takeaways for me was: stop asking and start demanding.”
Outside of developments in telehealth during the pandemic, Markovich added that the fee-for-service system buckled in 2020 when demand for healthcare services beyond COVID-19 fell rapidly and providers struggled to maintain revenue. Now, many of those providers are ready to come to the table with ideas for bringing down costs and creating a more sustainable system.
In the coming months and years, Markovich is excited for what he hopes is a newfound willingness to adopt and use effective technology in the healthcare sector. He noted that there remains widespread low expectations for the healthcare industry when it comes to tech – and that’s the first piece that needs to be addressed. While people continue to rely on consumer-friendly technologies in other industries – from banking to transportation – health care is woefully behind.
To change this narrative, Markovich feels that some forcing functions have to be in place.
“We have to create the incentives and some of this has to be top-down,” he said. “For example, in California, we’ve advocated for a mandate that would allow everyone to digitally share their electronic medical records and other information – which will go into effect January 1, 2024.”
By using top-tier technology and innovations, the healthcare industry can make huge strides in increasing efficiency for providers, improving quality and access to care for patients, and being better prepared for the next public health crisis, he said.
“Necessity is the mother of invention,” Markovich said. “We’re going to have to mandate it, otherwise it will be a long road.”