The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated health care providers’ and plans’ investment in digital technologies while reducing capital spending on new physical assets, we learn in Building resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond from the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions.

What must be built (or truly re-built), health care leaders believe, is first and foremost trust, followed by financial viability to ensure long-term resilience and sustainability — for the workforce, the organization, the community, and leaders themselves.

For this report, Deloitte interviewed 60 health care chief financial officers to gauge their perspectives during the pandemic looking at the future of their organizations in the post-COVID environment.

Deloitte has been talking about resilience in leadership across all industries, globally, throughout the pandemic. In July 2020, Punit Renjen. Deloitte’s Global CEO, addressed four key stakeholder groups for resilience and sustainability: our people/workforce, organizations, society, and leadership’s ability to lead.

Per Renjen,

As resilient leaders, one of our most critical roles right now is to sustain: to sustain our people, many of whom are experiencing not only fatigue but more stresses than they ever have; to sustain our organizations in continuing to create value for all stakeholders; and to sustain society as it experiences multiple existential threats. But just as important, we must also sustain our own ability to lead so that we can continue to serve over the long journey ahead.

The first chart comes out of the health care report, which was published in September 2020. Consumer trust and concern for safety emerges as the top organization goal for the short-run due to the pandemic, followed by financial status and workforce concerns with safety and burnout. Note that potential for a second wave/outbreak was the close 4th ranking concern among CFOs, for this study which was published in 2020.

As we reach the middle of November 2020, it’s clear that concern for an outbreak was merited and prescient among the CFOs polled.

That’s why continued investment in digital and virtual care platforms, and away from physical buildings, is a bet CFOs are placing on capital allocation.

Clinical, operational and core business technologies are also top-of-mind for capital spending in the wake of the pandemic.

The second chart details CFOs’ re-vamped priorities, beginning with virtual health techs, cybersecurity, and engagement platforms for both consumers and workforce.

Cost reduction ranks high, with the inference that investing more in digital “should” have the impact of saving cash in operations. Consider: chatbots, AI, triage-via-telehealth, and other digital investments that can address higher-cost sites and redundant services. This trend couples with one in another research question in the study finding that the pandemic increased interest in work automation this year compared with last year.

It’s also useful to see data and interoperability ranking a growing priority among two-thirds of CFOs here.

Deloitte points to seven considerations for the future of health care organizations, weaving the CFOs input from the study:

  • Consumers, with trust “driving the speed” at which demand for health care returns to the next normal. Here, enhanced hygiene and physical distancing protocols will be part of the new-normal, along with greater transparency of costs.
  • Clinical: Here, providers will be “thoughtfully balancing” urgency and health equity, where COVID-19 revealed heath disparities and the risks of social determinants of health in different patient populations.
  • Financial, preparing for evolving reimbursement models that align value and risk-sharing.
  • Technology, with virtual and digital technologies replacing and complementing synchronous, face-to-face encounters. This will also require increased attention to data security.
  • Work, with our eyes firmly focused on the Quadruple Aim. As we entered 2020 with an already-burned out and anxious clinical workforce, the pandemic has exacerbated that. Staff well-being is paramount to a sustainable health care system, and resources must be allocated to ensuring mental and behavioral health services are available to staff who may need them — but not be comfortable being vocal about their demand for them.
  • Community, with collaboration around data, mission, and inclusion key to bolstering public health and trust that then inspires health engagement and mutualism.
  • Supply chain, balancing resource availability with designing new processes to manage and deliver PPE, vaccines and medicines, and other necessary resources where demand may quickly spike in a viral outbreak.

Health Populi’s Hot Points:  Yesterday, I gave a talk on behalf of the CHPA Academy (part of the Consumer Healthcare Products Association). I talked through the short, shocked, continuing story of the consumer in the era of the coronavirus epidemic: what we know-we-know in the first ten months into it, and what might come to persist post-pandemic in 2022 and beyond.

During the Q&A session, an attendee asked me to address the growing call for sustainability in business, and in particular ESG goals and the Business Roundtable’s 2019 statement on the purpose of a corporation.

Note that the Business Roundtable CEO signatures included those leading every industry; among health care stakeholders you’ll find Abbott, Amazon, Anthem, Apple, Bayer, Best Buy, Bristol Myers Squibb, Centene, CIGNA, Comcast, CVS Health, Eli Lilly, Humana,  Johnson & Johnson, Mallinckrodt, McKesson, Medtronic, Microsoft, Pfizer, P&G, Salesforce, Stryker, Thermo Fisher, Walgreens Boots Alliance, and Deloitte’s Punit Renjen, as well.

In that statement, 181 CEOs signed a manifesto re-defining and re-committing their companies’ role to benefit all stakeholders – customers, employees, suppliers, communities and shareholders. This last group, shareholders, has historically been Job #1 of the corporation in terms of most important stakeholders to serve.

In my CHPA Q&A question, I connected the dots between that updated Business Roundtable mission with the ESG goals shown here for the environment, social, and governance pillars of social responsibility. Each of these areas impacts our health and how health care services are financed and delivered.

In this paradigm, “who cares, wins.”

The quote above comes out of the global Deloitte report, written for all industries and sensibilities.

These words say that our future sustainability compels us to shape our communities and policies for the greater good. In the pandemic, a global and local public health crisis, we have learned that the greater good includes everyone — that we are intimately connected, from Wuhan to Kirkland, Washington, to the Lombardy region of Italy, to Forest Hills, NY.

Every company is now a health company, and every one of us is part of a larger health ecosystem. Deloitte’s finding that rebuilding trust, first, is a precursor to our collective resilience — yes, for business, but also for our overall health and well-being.