Just three months into 2023 and we’ve already seen several moves that will have long-term implications for the industry. CVS Health plans to buy primary care provider Oak Street Health for an estimated $10.6 billion. If approved by regulators, it would continue the push by retail giants into care delivery. Elevance, formerly known as Anthem, closed its acquisition of specialty pharmacy BioPlus, a sign of further diversification among insurers. New research is generating hope around treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease, and a shakeup may be coming to the biosimilar market as competitors to Humira launch.
While big announcements like these generate lots of excitement, we face a host of challenges. Fears of a global recession linger. Hospital margins are hurting. Workforce challenges persist. Climate change is elevating health risks. But every crisis presents an opportunity and we can’t afford to squander this chance to reinvent the industry; tackle the issues of affordability, access, and climate change head-on; and, critically, rebuild fractured trust with communities.
How we, as leaders, respond to these opportunities will have a dramatic impact on how healthcare and care delivery are reimagined. We’ve identified three themes that will guide our analysis and thought leadership throughout the year:
Leading in the Age of Acceleration
We are witnessing massive shifts in science, technology, and consumer behavior across every sector of the economy. Healthcare is at the epicenter of it all. As my colleague Heiyab Tessema outlines in the Oliver Wyman Health Innovation Journal, taking advantage of these advances is table stakes for any organization wanting to stay competitive.
But it is not just about deploying technology for technology’s sake or launching a new drug or service without understanding how it fits into the broader ecosystem. Leading in the age of acceleration means leveraging touch points with staff and consumers and altering behavior. True disruptions get embedded in the fabric of life. Think about how Uber went from an idea shared by two friends who couldn’t hail a cab on a cold night in 2008 in Paris to becoming a ubiquitous ride sharing app. The company consolidated a fragmented industry and, in doing so, radically changed consumer behavior.
Healthcare has a similar opportunity to leverage digital tools. Artificial intelligence and machine learning can bolster decision-making, including drug development. We should also think more strategically about how to integrate digital tools to offer consumers more options to connect with services. The idea is to find a need and fill it by building stronger relationships with consumers. Jeff Wessler, MD, is a good example. A cardiologist by training, Wessler founded Heartbeat Health to address a critical problem plaguing patients — the extraordinary length of time it takes to get an appointment with a cardiologist. A virtual-first platform, Heartbeat Health connects patients directly with a specialist and helps manage their condition in real-time. Wessler details the opportunities and challenges of shaking up the status quo in this podcast with Oliver Wyman’s Ann Kaplan.
Harnessing Risk, Scarcity, and Economic Disruption
For healthcare providers in the US, workforce tops the list of concerns. High levels of burnout forced hospitals to tap into traveling nurses and contract labor throughout the pandemic. That contributed to hospitals seeing labor expenses climb 37% between March 2019 and March 2022.
Organizations facing high turnover rates, rising labor costs, or both need to tackle those scenarios head-on. Solutions, however, need to be strategic and aligned with the organization’s mission. Technology can help by automating routine functions, but it should be utilized for more thoughtful staff deployment. Houston Methodist is doing just that by using technology to create a more sustainable workforce model. Roberta Schwartz, the system’s chief innovation officer, describes their work in a recent podcast.
The current economic climate is also reshaping deal making across the industry. Historic levels of investment leveled off in 2022. But again, every crisis is an opportunity. As leaders, we should be on the lookout for strategic partnerships that not only bolster an organization’s position in the market, but fundamentally improves access for patients, whether that is new sites of care, expanded insurance offerings, or new drug development. It’s about applying a different lens to the merger, acquisition, and investment mindset by asking, “What need am I trying to address?”
Turning Climate Intent into Action
Perhaps no crisis unites us all more than climate change. If we care about public health locally and globally, we must care about the climate. The impact reaches every corner of the industry, from elevated health risks and utilization to rising infrastructure costs in the aftermath of natural disasters.
Beyond that, there’s a growing expectation among policymakers and consumers that healthcare companies become more environmentally focused. We are seeing significant movement in that direction. Some of the nation’s largest health systems are working to reduce their carbon footprints and an estimated 28% of the US pharmaceutical sector by revenue has pledged to become net-zero carbon emitters by 2030. That push should have a ripple effect as pressure mounts up and down the supply chain for companies to embrace sustainability and become more environmentally friendly.
There are other opportunities to think outside of the box when it comes to climate change and health. The use of drones and telemedicine, for instance, to deliver medications to remote and underserved populations. This not only gets necessary treatment to patients but can reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Providers and payers can expand collaborations with each other and community groups to support farmers markets, food banks, and local grocery stores. Increasing access to healthy, locally sourced food not only reduces harm to the environment but tackles a key social determinant of health — food insecurity.
Healthcare needs bold mission-oriented leaders who are willing to put their own careers on the line to reshape the industry. We can be scared during these big disruptive moments and waste opportunities, or we can take bold actions. I know which one I’m choosing.