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HRI Q&A: Digital relationships with physicians expand in 2021

April 21, 2021

Will Perry
Principal, PwC US

Until now, the health industry has focused more on ease and simplicity of technology solutions for consumers, and less for the clinicians who treat them. That may be changing, according to a report by PwC’s Health Research Institute (HRI). Digital technology, if made right, could be the antidote to countless pain points that physicians encounter every day, leading to more efficient and satisfied doctors, happier patients and more patient referrals. To learn more, HRI spoke with Will Perry, PwC’s health industries technology consulting leader, about what to expect in 2021.

PwC Health Research Institute (HRI)

A recent HRI survey found that 90% of health executives believe their organizations will prioritize the clinician experience this year. Is this something that has been brought on by the pandemic?

Will Perry, PwC health industries technology leader

Prior to the virus, there was still a lot of momentum around burnout among nurses and doctors, shortages in specialists in certain geographies, etc. Those drivers already created the context for enhancing the physician experience. The virus accelerated it; it didn’t catalyze it.

HRI: Our research found that the health industry expects to make more investments in digital technologies to improve clinician experience this year. Can you give us a sense of what investments were already being made compared with what we expect in 2021?

Will Perry: Pre-virus, some providers were already starting to invest in digital relationships with physicians—from recruiting to contracting, how the provider interacts with employed physicians around the performance metrics in their contract agreements. They were already digitizing a lot of that. We’ll see continued investment in that in 2021.

Some leading health systems I’m working with are pivoting and broadening their digital focus on employee experience overall. How do you lay that out and streamline it? How do you treat it like a customer journey? At PwC, we talk a lot about human-centered design.

One area is in physician recruitment and contracting. Historically, newly onboarded physicians had forms and forms to fill out on Day One. It was a very clunky experience, with doctors being sent all over campus to deliver forms and pick up their employee IDs at different departments.

We are working with some clients that are building toward a digital experience that says, “Congratulations and welcome! Here’s your contract, your Day One checklist—you can submit all your forms electronically before you start. Check in at a kiosk when you arrive on Day One to pick up your agenda, ID and laptop, and then you can go straight to seeing patients.” A process that used to take three to five days now only takes one.

During the pandemic, we’ve had to figure that out here at PwC—how to onboard new employees without them ever leaving their house. We revamped the whole process. A new kit gets delivered to the new employee’s home to welcome them to the firm.

HRI: How does that digital relationship then extend into their day-to-day of seeing patients? What does a “digital relationship” mean on the front lines of care?

Will Perry: Clinically speaking, a lot of it’s there. I had shoulder surgery in January in Georgia, and I’m in Indiana right now and had a question while recovering. I logged in to my patient portal and left a note for my doctor, and three hours later he replied back. Digital communication allows him to interact very easily with me asynchronously. It’s happening well synchronously with virtual visits too. I’d say this is all table stakes now. The patient-doctor digital relationship is already there, if patients want it.

But the doctor-health system digital relationship is not. What’s different, where health systems can be stickier, is in the digital relationship between the health system itself and the physician. As a partner at PwC, I have a partner portal and app where I can do everything 24/7/365.

Health systems are moving to onboard physicians digitally; now they need to figure out where else they have high-touch interactions with them where they can grow and maintain engagement. Practice management functions like gain-sharing, profitability analysis and clinical quality—these functions need to be able to share data digitally and in real time. Otherwise the docs will get recruited away by a health system that is offering these things to make their lives simpler.

HRI: Any parting words?

Will Perry: There’s a degree of automation emerging between device manufacturers, doctors and providers that’s really interesting. For example, a surgeon doing a hip replacement uses an iPad camera to measure the distance between the cup and the ball, and the app recommends the right length and model of the device needed. That’s changing the way surgeons work.

But the vanguard will be how technology will move care out of the operations of physician practice, as we shift from molecular biology to bioscience driving healthcare. We need to be thinking about what’s next: biomedicine, hospital to home, a more participative patient at home. A big part of that is digital. The future doesn’t look like big hospitals. You can envision a phlebotomist who goes to your house to draw blood, uses hand-held lab equipment to analyze it and then shares your genomic data directly with a drug manufacturer. A custom therapeutic is developed on demand and then dropshipped to your house. Telemedicine is not interesting anymore; it’s in the rearview mirror. This type of disruption is what we need to be planning for.

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Sarah Haflett

Sarah Haflett

Director and Research Leader, PwC Health Research Institute, PwC US

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