The COVID-19 Crisis Exposes Areas Where SAP Customers in the Healthcare Field Can Up Their Game

by Lauren Bonneau, Senior Editor

In conducting some interviews for an upcoming article in SAPinsider magazine on how different industries in the SAP ecosystem are changing their business models to improve the experience for their customers, I had the opportunity to talk with some experts from SAP and Qualtrics in the life sciences and healthcare space. I found these conversations particularly illuminating during this time of crisis due to the COVID-19 virus outbreak.

During this insanity, going to the local supermarket and seeing rows of empty shelves where canned food and toilet paper used to be or signs everywhere saying products like hand sanitizer are “temporarily unavailable” — and then being quarantined in my house for days on end has certainly been jarring to put it lightly. But it wasn’t until I talked with the people actually working in the healthcare field — trying to pull solutions together to address this intense situation of both healthy and hysterical paranoia — that I was able to look outside my own bubble and see the larger perspective of everything that’s involved in trying to combat this virus. And it was enlightening for me to hear specifically how healthcare organizations are challenged, considering that are the ones on the front lines.

Much of the healthcare systems worldwide were modeled after the way the US has done things, which is not perfect, according to Patty Riskind, Head of Global Healthcare for Qualtrics; however, this situation is certainly not unique to the US as the same problems persist across the globe. “This crisis is actually illustrating how broken things are,” she says. “Because in addition to breakdowns in public communication about what COVID-19 is and how people can take care of themselves to stay healthy, the healthcare institutions themselves are struggling. They don’t know if they have enough beds, gloves, masks, testing kits, and so on, and this illustrates how disconnected healthcare can be and how everyone worries about their own silo versus the capacity and coordination of care across entire systems.”

The truth of the matter is that, even without the COVID-19 crisis, healthcare is an industry today that already had a fairly negative perception. A recent study of the sector found that 81% of patients were unsatisfied with their current healthcare experience, revealing that the global industry as a whole needs to figure out how to streamline the way healthcare works — including interactions with clinicians at doctors’ offices and hospitals, medical drug and device suppliers, and health plan providers — to determine better ways of delivering care.

Historically, the reimbursement model in the healthcare industry had been to reimburse on volume. “In a strange way, the more diversity in sickness, pain, and suffering, the better it was for their reimbursement model,” says Walt Ellenberger MHA, Senior Director of Healthcare Business Development and Strategic Alliances for SAP Regulated Industries. “While that model ultimately created one of the more comprehensive, specialized, health systems in the world, at some point, it became unsustainable from a cost perspective. And when the government changed the game by moving toward a value-based reimbursement model, it motivated healthcare systems to start thinking in a more quantifiable, logical way and begin weighing satisfaction into that reimbursement formula.”

This is where technology can step in to provide some elegance in better managing the integration of the major players in the healthcare space. For example, combining operational data (O-data) with experience data (X-data) can help pinpoint where there are opportunities for improvement to streamline the end-to-end customer journey and make the process as seamless as possible, according to Riskind. “In healthcare, you can analyze the patient’s experience, but you should also analyze the provider and supplier experience,” she says. “I’m sure medical suppliers that are creating or delivering COVID-19 test kits right now are being tasked with figuring out how to mass deploy these test kits to the providers that need them. That’s no small task. And then once the providers receive those test kits, do they know what to do? Do they know how to test and how to get the results? Is the process clear and streamlined? And then from a patient perspective, what are their expectations? Do they know what the test will entail and how long they must wait before they find out the results? And once they get the results, do they know what to do next?”

Healthcare has traditionally been a very reactive world where bottlenecks are looked at retrospectively and feedback is given after the fact. Qualtrics aims to capture real-time feedback so providers can listen, analyze, and act to have an impact proactively, before a patient is out of care. In turn, patients feel like they have more influence and participation in the care process. For example, say a patient is diagnosed as having contracted the COVID-19 virus, is still in care, and doesn’t understand the medication instructions. By capturing feedback at the bedside, Qualtrics could trigger an alert to nurses or administrators to reinforce with that patient the necessary instructions, or perhaps go through a handout together, to make sure instructions are crystal clear to the patient.

According to Ellenberger, SAP offers a big data platform with the unique ability to aggregate a wide array of different data sources at the enterprise level above the tree line of any one vendor, analyze that structured and unstructured data from an operational and experience perspective, and provide the speed and agility to proactively manage value-based performance. “Now that the X part of the strategy is becoming very relevant, systematically capturing and managing sentiment during the entire patient   journey in real time — and integrating it with the O or operational part of delivering services — is a new formula for business success,” he says. “Applying smart technology to glean insights from that information will enable the healthcare industry to not only to survive but to thrive in this emerging consumer-directed value-based environment.”

Understanding and sharing data is the key to succeeding in this new value-based reality. Take for instance, Mercy, a healthcare organization that consolidated 44 different hospitals onto one system for electronic medical records and applied natural language processes to shed light on over 700 million clinical notes of unstructured data. When Mercy began analyzing its data at that scale, it discovered important insights hidden in the clinical notes, such complication rates and adverse reactions, which are meaningful to understanding device and drug effectiveness, according to Ellenberger. “Capturing doctor observations and patient sentiment about use and side effects are additional insights that provide early indications of how life science products are doing in the wild,” he says.

With each of the constituents of the healthcare ecosystem using advanced analytics and sharing X-data and O-data along the patient, medicine, and device life cycle with each other, roadblocks will begin to dissipate. Imagine how much more quickly the healthcare industry could have responded to the COVID-19 crisis if it were better prepared to collaborate about testing processes and materials and if patients had easier access to real-time information.

Advice for the SAPinsider Community

While there are no ifs, ands, or buts about the COVID-19 virus being anything other than a crisis, perhaps the silver lining to the situation is the hope for reform in the healthcare industry. SAP customers that are constituents in this industry can do their part to improve their technology landscapes to help make a difference. Here are some pieces of advice from healthcare experts to consider:

  • Look at the end-to-end journey. Analyze all the touchpoints of the patient, provider, and supplier journey, and map out intervention points where there is potential for success or failure.
  • Move from a retrospective approach to a more proactive one. Stop considering only post-care feedback. Start checking in with constituents during the journey to have a more immediate impact.
  • Provide real-time interventions. The intention of Qualtrics is to shorten the feedback loop so healthcare systems can institute change and a mindset for change that empowers organizations to raise the bar. Practitioners can have a faster and potentially lifesaving effect if they take action while a patient is still in care.
  • Incorporate feedback throughout the entire chain. If a medical device manufacturer finds out earlier in the process – before a device is mass distributed through the market – that it’s faulty or bad side effects occur, it could not only prevent issues for the provider, such as malpractice, but it also can help the manufacturer get ahead of the curve in improving products.

In response to the ongoing development of COVID-19, Qualtrics is currently offering a variety of free solutions for all organizations: Qualtrics Remote Work Pulse, Remote + On-site Work Pulse, and Healthcare Workforce Pulse to name a few. For more details on these publicly available solutions, visit here.