Learn how COVID-19 has heightened the need for collaborations, partnerships, and energy for healthcare M&A technology.
The pace of change in the healthcare industry has been accelerating for decades. Then came the pandemic, with abrupt shifts to “medical-distancing” and the resulting rise of telehealth. These occurrences heightened the need for collaborations, partnerships, and new energy for mergers and acquisitions.
But perhaps most dramatic is the acceleration toward becoming a more consumer-driven, tech-savvy profession. This reimagined vision for healthcare is one based on the wellness and a 'healthcare anywhere' model that is made possible by technology.
Add to that what healthcare consultants at Deloitte predict—that by 2040 the healthcare industry of today will no longer exist as it adjusts to a fundamental shift from healthcare to health, with greater data connectivity and an engaged consumer. Experts writing in the New England Journal of Medicine agree; they say that Americans are waking up to the limitations of their analog healthcare system and calling for a digital revolution.
From a Tech-Tentative Start to Acceleration
In the years and months before the pandemic, technology investment and implementation were not among the top initiatives on the radar for healthcare leaders. In 2019, the New England Journal of Medicine wrote that 38% of chief executives of health care systems reported having no digital component in their overall strategic plan.
Enter the pandemic, bringing with it an acceleration of transformations—digital as well as operational and organizational. In the 2021 BDO Healthcare CFO Outlook Survey, 52% of healthcare CFOs say their organization made faster decisions during the pandemic. Healthcare leaders channeled that decisiveness into actions that will help to shape the future of the industry.
Among those post-pandemic actions reported in the survey:
- 44% say the pandemic accelerated digital transformation
- 44% of healthcare CFOs say the pandemic is driving partnerships across the healthcare ecosystem
- 42% say the pandemic will increase consolidation
- 30% see an increased focus on diverse revenue streams
The "Amazon Moment"
In framing the future of healthcare delivery, Dr. Stephen Klasko, physician and Distinguished Fellow of the World Economic Forum, told Becker’s Hospital Review: "This is healthcare's Amazon moment. If you are a provider and think you're going to go back to your business model solely being based on hospital revenue and not relevant to people who want care at home, I think you will be out of business.”
There is no doubt that the consumer is driving the surge in telehealth, but an assessment published by the Harvard Business Review: offers what may be an unexpected motivation—that “…patients appreciate the convenience and, perhaps surprisingly, the intimacy of virtual encounters.” Beyond convenience and ease of access, there was a further surprise, one that may foreshadow trends in patient loyalty. Consumers surveyed were more likely to give high ratings to their care providers after telemedicine visits compared with in-person care.
There are two more solid indicators of telehealth’s expanded role going forward. Most states are now waiving state licensure rules to allow for telehealth to cross state lines, providing patients access to care, even before or after local practice office hours. Second, 95% of large US employers are now covering telehealth, up from 56% in 2016, making it clear that business leaders will have a say in how virtual care is used and how it should be integrated into the healthcare system.
Pandemic Financial Impact: Technology to the Rescue
The cost of the pandemic is being felt in many ways, not the least on the healthcare industry’s bottom line. The American Medical Association Physician Financial Impact Survey shows that among the 3,500 physicians surveyed, 81% reported that revenue was lower than pre-pandemic—with an average drop in revenue of 32%.
Here again, leaders are looking to technology to bolster financial well-being. Going forward, decreasing patient accounts receivable is critical. The solution for many is adopting systems such as Health Express®, a patient payment technology of Health iPASS.
“With so many healthcare practices reevaluating their revenue cycle policies and procedures in this economic environment, we are aiming to help providers adapt their patient payment collection strategies,” stated Bridgit Chayt, senior vice president and director of Wholesale Payments at Fifth Third Bank. “In addition to its contactless capabilities, Health Express brings transparency for the patient and peace-of-mind for the provider during a time of uncertainty,” she adds.
Health iPASS also offers a response to the post-pandemic patient preference for technology-supported distancing. The system allows patients to complete their intake information, check-in and payment-related tasks on their own device before an office visit with their medical team. No more arriving 15 minutes early to sit in a crowded waiting room while filling out forms. And because Health iPASS is 100% mobile, it not only supports in-person medical care, but telehealth as well. For either version of medical visits - in-person or telehealth - the system sends automated "intelligent" appointment reminders via text, voice or email.
Collaboration, Shared Resources and M&A
The solution for other stresses brought on through the pandemic—from staffing to equipment to PPE sourcing—for many healthcare organizations was finding and building partnerships with practices and systems across the nation. “Healthcare leaders have made clear that their vision is more collaborative, connective and patient-centric than ever before,” says Steven Shill, CPA National & Global Healthcare Practice Leader in the BDO 2021 Healthcare CFO Outlook Survey.
HealthCare Finance online magazine echoes those expectations, forecasting that in the coming year:
- 31% of CFOs plan to acquire physician practices
- 30% aim to join a clinically integrated network
- 28% expect a merger
- 24% plan to enter into a joint venture
- 20% may need to sell to another organization
- 17% expect to acquire another organization.
Those collaboration initiatives are increasingly crossing geographic boundaries in order to deliver needed services. A good example is the joint venture between Michigan's Henry Ford Hospital and Tennessee's Acadia Healthcare Company, Inc., that will enhance behavioral health delivery to the Detroit suburbs. Collaborations are also crossing industries. As Becker's Hospital Review points out, hospitals and healthcare systems are creating joint ventures to deliver health and wellness services with tech giants such as Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft.
Mergers and acquisitions among physician practice groups are also meeting or exceeding those expectations. Analysts commenting in Healthcare Finance predict that 2021 could be a record-setting year for physician practice deals. They advise that the predicted increase in deals would benefit both sides, allowing well-positioned organizations to expand their markets, while empowering those in search of buyers to find opportunities.
The Tech Turnaround on a Stubborn Trend Line
The shortages among healthcare professionals predate COVID-19, but the pandemic exacerbated that trend. The New York Times points to a critical issue facing healthcare delivery post-pandemic: “Researchers say the pandemic’s toll on the nation’s health care workforce will play out long after the coronavirus is tamed…with a surge of early retirements and the desperation of community hospitals struggling to hire enough workers to keep their emergency rooms running.”
The Association of American Medical Colleges predicts that the nation could see an estimated shortage of between 54,100 and 139,000 physicians by 2033. While these statistics look bleak, the organization points to the potential for tech-driven help—and it starts with scheduling.
The AAMA says that there are "...far too many appointments currently (that) go unfilled or are missed by patients on a daily basis." The ideal is when medical practices operate at full capacity. With fewer no-shows and cancellations, the balance between healthcare demand and physician supply comes closer to reality. Addressing this imbalance would be the equivalent of adding thousands of physicians into the healthcare system overnight. That's where technology comes in. As Medical Economics points out, strategies and systems for patient scheduling and treatment efficiencies made possible by technology are providing access to hidden capacity across healthcare systems.
In addition to capacity, Healthcare IT News points out a consumer-friendly benefit to scheduling programs: patients appreciate the ability to go online to schedule or cancel appointments when it's convenient for them—especially before or after practice office hours. And when those patients are among the 80% of Americans with a willingness to track their health and wellness status with a "wearable" such as a heart rate or blood pressure monitor, another practice capacity and patient benefit can be realized. Modern Healthcare frames the benefit to both physician and patient provided by wearables: with up-to-date, accurate data, clinicians can anticipate, diagnose, and treat patients more effectively. And efficiently.
There is no shortage of challenges to navigate as the healthcare industry moves on from crisis to recovery to a consumer-focused and technology-supported future. Leaders will look to solutions from digital systems, from trusted partners and from new alliances. And with each of these challenges and opportunities will come the need for advice from tested professionals and advisors.
Building strong practices and organizations going forward will require tactics and strategies that demand a team of the right experts to help guide you. Pivotal to making the most of those strategies will be your bank, your banker and their organization’s deep bench of healthcare finance experts. Contact your Relationship Manager or Find a Banker, to learn more.