One of the more-anticipated movie releases in my household this spring was Air, which tells the story of Nike’s now-famous partnership with Michael Jordan. Their landmark shoe deal redefined what it meant to be a professional athlete: players evolved beyond serving as brand ambassadors to become brands unto themselves.
Jordan’s partnership with Nike marked a true industry paradigm shift. I can’t help but feel that health care is also at an inflection point, one where industry leaders can drive change that will impact the practice of medicine for decades to come.
Amid physician shortages, increased patient demands, and economic uncertainty, we’re also witnessing unprecedented consolidation, new players entering the market, vanishing of geographic barriers, and an evolving health care ecosystem that must answer the call to meet the needs of patients and clinicians in new and innovative ways.
Other industries made changes at critical moments that helped them meet consumer needs and flourish through challenging times. We can take lessons from their examples and use them to create a blueprint for health care innovation while we navigate our own headwinds of change.
Lesson 1: Play to your strengths
Drawing on your strengths to achieve a common goal holds tremendous power. Michael Rubin, executive chairman of the sports apparel company, Fanatics, did just that when he launched the All-In Challenge. The campaign raised funds to support frontline workers, families in need, and vulnerable communities impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Fanatics’ ability to bring together key stakeholders from diverse industries and leverage existing social media channels to raise awareness was essential to the campaign’s success. In total, they generated over $60 million.
Similarly, integrated health care systems leaned on their expertise to address growing patient capacity challenges that strained hospital operations during COVID-19. By bringing together insurance executives, care team managers, and market leaders, as well as building on existing technology-enabled services, organizations quickly and effectively grew hospital-at-home services so patients could be treated where they live.
To fulfill the immense potential of emerging remote care programs like hospital-at-home, health care systems must continue to leverage expert integration and find alignment between insurance and medical experts, as well as patients. Leveraging the integrated care tools that we’ve invested in and gaining alignment from all stakeholders is the most effective way to understand and meet patient needs.
Lesson 2: Stay nimble in an evolving market
We now live in a world of on-demand streaming where convenience is king. But when Netflix launched in 1997, they were mailing physical DVDs and the occasional VHS. Then in 2001, the company’s CEO, Reed Hastings, shared a disruptive vision for streaming movies over the internet. The goal was to provide entertainment when people wanted it, in the comfort of their own homes. Today, Netflix is a global entertainment leader, with more than 230 million subscribers worldwide.
Netflix wouldn’t have succeeded without scaling to better serve customer needs. Health care organizations now have a similar opportunity to evolve and respond to the current market. To best serve patients through the digital transformation in health care, organizations must be nimble and adapt their services to meet the needs of an evolving market. This means expanding telehealth offerings, further utilizing remote monitoring technology, and exploring new avenues to improve patient access through digital platforms.
The industry has changed, and multi-specialty, physician-led care is evolving beyond brick-and-mortar operations. It’s time to stream high-quality, value-based care that adapts to patient needs.
Lesson 3: Take care of your workforce
Now more than ever, organizations must show up for employees experiencing historic levels of stress and burnout. In 2020 Starbucks partnered with Lyra Health to offer eligible employees and family members 20 free mental health sessions with a therapist or coach each year. Similarly, American Express recently created a new campaign to recognize Mental Health Awareness Month, offering staff access to wellness webinars and forums that normalize the importance of self-care and open conversations about mental health.
To care for the physicians, clinicians, and medical teams who care for us, the health care industry is investing more resources into employer-sponsored wellness programs. Several medical groups offer free online mental health services and well-being apps for medical workers and administrative staff.
Financial stress is also prevalent, as ongoing economic turbulence coupled with significant medical school debt burdens many physicians entering the field. To help alleviate economic challenges and stress on physicians, my hope is that we will see greater subsidization of medical school repayments. Removing such a major barrier to attracting a larger and more diverse pool of medical school applicants would create a brighter future for medicine.
There is much untapped potential for transformation waiting to be explored in our field, and I’m optimistic that a more promising tomorrow is on the horizon. The opportunity is out there, and, to borrow a popular phrase from the same company that recruited Air Jordan himself, we need to “just do it.”
Chris Grant is a health care executive.