Delivering more care through tablets, laptops and mobile phones, whether at home or in another lower cost setting, could help us prevent the next pandemic. For much of the last decade, we’ve envisioned on-demand, “anywhere” delivery of healthcare via a consumer-to business (C2B) platform. The consumer and industry responses to the COVID-19 pandemic are accelerating the trends that have informed our thinking.

Here’s how we see these trends playing out in the next few years to potentially enable the health system to quell outbreaks before they metastasize into pandemics.

On-Demand C2B Healthcare Platforms

Many healthcare systems are already investing in technology-based solutions. However, the digital offerings arising from these efforts tend to be tightly integrated with one company and its platform. Now, application programming interface (API) requirements in the new federal interoperability rules increase authorized third-party access to health data. Nontraditional health players, such as Amazon, Apple and Google, are advancing their abilities to deliver new apps and health tools.

Three to five years from now, consumers will have smartphone apps from one or more competing platforms offering access to healthcare providers and services. When they feel an odd tickle in their throat, they’ll be able to enter their symptoms, price parameters and/or health plan coverage into the app, and an artificial intelligence (AI) agent will offer physician recommendations. Consumers will also be able to check reviews, quality ratings and prices via the app, which will securely store their health ID data, and then set up virtual or clinical appointments with a swipe.  

With ubiquitous, affordable access to care via a smartphone, not only will more people get care more quickly, but the health system will also collect data and signals about a potential outbreak in real-time.

Virtual Care Gets Real

Today, healthcare systems and The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) have promoted teleheath channels to keep people with mild COVID-19 symptoms and routine care needs away from overcrowded hospitals. Telehealth channels have been overwhelmed, though; health organizations likely will expand these capabilities, especially as consumers avoid clinics and physician offices.

Soon, most individuals in the U.S. will routinely use telehealth services. People will subscribe, conduct monthly (or more frequent) check-ins and receive regular health coaching from an AI agent via text or voice assistant, based on data they transmit from their wearables. Algorithms will alert individuals to anomalies in their readings even before they feel ill. Telehealth providers will share AI-driven findings automatically with public health officials through APIs.

McHealth Models of Care Offer True Value

The U.S. healthcare system is fragmented and highly local, with hundreds of healthcare systems.  Healthcare processes and care delivery – and patient experiences – are similarly disparate. That is changing.

CVS, Walmart and Walgreens are among the first to offer health clinics backed by their national brands. This is one reason they’ve quickly made their store parking lots available for COVID-19 testing, although they’ve experienced some bumps in the road. Expect these and other players to build out what we’ve called “McHealth” models of care. McHealth care delivery is standardized and evidence-based, which makes it cost-effective and ensures high quality from one location to the next.

In the not-too-distant future, the McHealth providers will operate full-service stand-alone clinics and drive-through testing capabilities. Telehealth providers will send patients with suspicious symptoms to these sites. Using minimally invasive tools and video coaching, consumers will collect their own samples for specialized testing machines.

The clinics will be equipped to sequence the biological material onsite and run additional tests to rule out the common cold or other flu virus. By the time consumers arrive back home, their virtual caregiver and the McHealth clinic will know what treatment to offer. The McHealth clinic will arrange delivery of meds and supplies to help manage symptoms.

The Emergence of Hospitals as a Service 

To replace revenues as more people seek lower-cost care at retail clinics and via telemedicine, some healthcare systems offer their expertise to smaller or less well-equipped provider systems. Mercy Virtual in Missouri remotely monitors critical care in 43 hospitals across five states. UPMC in Pittsburgh offers clinical and specialty telehealth services, such as ICU and stroke assessments, to other providers. 

Moving forward, best-in-class providers like these will adopt the “hospital as a service” business model. These organizations will act as hubs providing services to other hospitals, clinics and individuals. High-speed, high-capacity 5G wireless networks will enable data to be processed by AI agents at network edges for fast decision support. McHealth clinics will subscribe to these services to provide in-home monitoring of individuals infected with the new virus. Standard in-home medical kits will include internet-connected thermometers and simple test kits that automatically transmit data to the hub for analysis. 

Hospitals as a service will also enable local providers to quickly stand-up remote bedside monitoring services. This will enable them to isolate sicker patients and treat them at unconventional care locations while primary facilities continue to safely deliver elective and preventative care.

The Rise of Clinical Powerhouses

Many academic medical centers are feeling acute financial pressure; their costs are often high because they’re de facto community health systems caring for financially insecure patients with serious chronic conditions. They may operate world-class research labs and academic medical centers, but reputations don’t always pay the bills. These institutions can find firmer financial footing by specializing in their strongest areas and building international brands.

Looking ahead, these institutions will morph into clinical powerhouses. Several, such as UTMB in Galveston, will build specialties in infectious disease mitigation and be on the front lines of aggregating health records data from payers, clinics and hubs in near real-time to quickly isolate and model the new virus.

As part of an international response network, these institutions will analyze data about infection rates, disease progression and treatments, and relay advisories to hospital-as-a-service hubs, McHealth clinics and public health officials. More and better information will become available across health systems around the world to attack the virus.

Expanding the Digital Footprint

The building blocks for these mid-term visions either already exist or are being formed now. What has been lacking is the industry will to solve data fluidity challenges and embrace competitive market pricing.

The rise of new competitors, the enactment of new rules forcing interoperable data and transparent prices and, finally, the punch from the COVID-19 pandemic should accelerate the industry’s evolution toward on-demand care, anywhere. By developing the capabilities required to deliver app-first C2B care, the industry will gain the agility and maneuverability required to fight the next virus more effectively.  

This blog is part of our special report on the future of infectious disease. Stay tuned for more blogs on this topic.

Visit our COVID-19 resources page for additional insights and updates.

William Shea

William Shea

William “Bill” Shea is a Vice-President within Cognizant Business Consulting’s Healthcare Practice. He has over 20 years of experience in management consulting,... Read more

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