Now is the time to attain meaningful improvements to patient outcomes and access to care

The healthcare industry delivered years’ worth of new innovations and technology in just a few months as the COVID-19 pandemic began, and it has remained in a constant state of necessitated innovation as surges have unfortunately continued.

These advances have saved lives, and though born out of necessity, serve as a foundation towards a holistic long-term vision for sustained acceleration. With so much changing so quickly, it is easy to lose sight of how this foundation paves the way for years of future advances—which is why defining the vision is so important.  

This foundation has many facets that are valuable in and of themselves, from the widespread adoption of virtual care to efficiencies and insights driven by machine learning. But individual facets accrue to even loftier, broader goals: better treatments, outcomes, and experiences for all patients—including improved health equity, with care available regardless of location, race, socioeconomic status, or other structural barriers.

This article will explore this foundation, why healthcare is positioned for continued rapid transformation, and why now is the moment to attain meaningful improvements to patient experiences, patient outcomes, and healthcare access.

A foundation for sustained innovation in healthcare

Skyrocketing telemedicine adoption has been the most visible change during the pandemic—but COVID-based use cases have mostly treated virtual appointments as a stopgap to limit the virus’s spread, protect patients, and keep hospitals from being overwhelmed. This was a crucial adjustment, but it only scratches the surface of what’s possible.

We expect to get cash at the ATM but we also expect to be able to deposit a check using our mobile phones. The seams between the physical and the virtual world have been significantly reduced in other industries, and we share a vision that this will be the case in healthcare as well.

Mary Modahl, Chief Marketing Officer, Amwell

“We expect to get cash at the ATM but we also expect to be able to deposit a check using our mobile phones. The seams between the physical and the virtual world have been significantly reduced in other industries, and we share a vision that this will be the case in healthcare as well,” said Mary Modahl, Chief Marketing Officer at Amwell, in a webinar hosted by Google Cloud.

Modahl stressed that “a lot of healthcare is physical, [about] the laying on of hands”—and as a physician, I agree: for many conditions, concerns, or exams, in-person doctor’s visits may remain the norm. But virtual visits can also be the difference between a routine consultation or follow-up visit occurring or being delayed—and thus the difference in when problems are detected, which treatments are possible, and whether outcomes are favorable.

Convenience aside, virtual appointments are also especially important in rural areas or regions with few hospitals or clinics, as well for elder care, management of chronic diseases, and other situations in which a patient or their caregiver needs to manage treatment from the patient’s home. As Modahl points out by likening future healthcare models to the omnichannel interactions prevalent in retail and financial services, virtual care in years to come will be less about social distancing and more about using technology to fill gaps that leave patients underserved. These kinds of strategies will go a long way toward improving health equity, by expanding the environments in which patients can receive care outside of medical facilities. 

Self-service digital tools and virtual agents have also proliferated during the pandemic, helping patients stay informed and connected to their doctors while also helping providers operate more efficiently.

Self-service digital tools and virtual agents have also proliferated during the pandemic, helping patients stay informed and connected to their doctors while also helping providers operate more efficiently. From web portals to help patients find vaccines to AI-powered bots that triage patients and help direct them to the right care, these advances lay the groundwork for a variety of new efficiencies and novel engagement  models.

“One specialty where this has been particularly useful is dermatology,” said Roy Rosin, Penn Medicine’s Chief Innovation Officer, in a whitepaper developed by Amwell, Google Cloud, and Becker’s. “If a dermatologist doesn’t have access to good clear images before an appointment, those appointments can often wind up canceled. These virtual agents can walk patients through this information-sharing process step by step.”

Scores of other areas have taken big strides as well in redesigning care: mobile apps and cloud services that make it faster and easier for doctors to collaborate or access data, whenever and wherever necessary; wearable devices that help to track patient vitals and even help diagnose diseases; and so on. The examples are numerous but the common thread is the same: since the pandemic accelerated so much change, many of the engines for continued innovation, better care equity, and improved outcomes are already roaring. 

Take the next steps by leveraging interoperability, speed, scale, and insights

Significant IT modernization had to be completed to enable the aforementioned examples—and that transformation can be further matured in myriad ways. This is why healthcare is so ripe for sustained acceleration, beyond the pandemic.

Broadly, the IT architectures that enable these pathways are built around four ideas that cascade into each other: interoperability, power, intelligence, and trust.


Data interoperability is crucial to ensuring that doctors and researchers have the information they need to make the best decisions for patients and populations at large. Interoperability has been an industry-wide topic for years, as records are fragmented, unorganized, and unstructured across siloed systems leaving doctors without holistic views into patient histories. But COVID-19 exacerbated this problem: hospital administrators and public health officials needed data from many sources in order to anticipate and plan for surges in ICU consumption; doctors needed better data to assess COVID-19 risk factors; researchers needed to share data in order to understand the virus; etc. 

Architecturally, this has involved modernization efforts like putting APIs in front of legacy systems so they can communicate in a consistent, HIPAA-compliant manner or leveraging data and apps across different systems  to compose digital services. Continued progress in this area is central to healthcare’s data-driven future, from wider use of wearables to advances in precision medicine–enabling a more integrated view of the patient, and ultimately better health outcomes. The modern architecture that interoperability requires also increases the ability to connect to cloud services—and the access to speed, scale, and insights that they offer.

Speed and scale

Power in healthcare stems from the ability to work with speed and at scale. These concepts have been crucial to lives during COVID, which is one reason hyperscale cloud services have played a role supporting many pandemic efforts. When the data across sources changes, doctors and public health officials need the updates immediately, not in a few days, after all the information finally propagates. Similarly, if a web portal is deployed to a community, it needs to be able to handle thousands or even millions of users—patients can’t sign up for vaccines or get trustworthy information if providers’ services aren’t online during times of high demand. Going forward, this kind of IT resilience will help doctors to make more informed decisions, researchers to work faster and smarter, and virtual care services to reach more people.    


Interoperability and the speed, scale, and services available in the cloud set the conditions for better data-driven insights. For example, when the CDC updates COVID risk definitions, public health officials  need to quickly understand implications for both individual patients and community resources. By applying cloud-powered machine learning to these definitions and other data sources, some organizations have created continuously-updated, immediately actionable monitoring dashboards and machine learning models powered by AI to predict outbreaks. These steps set the stage for more data-driven public health policies, more actionable insights, and better, more individualized treatments and outcomes. These same models can be taken to the bedside at hospitals and doctors offices to power clinical insights that help the doctor take better care of patients.  


Patients care deeply about the privacy of their healthcare data. Moreover, such sensitive data can be an attractive target for bad actors, and understandably a variety of regulations dictate how patient data can be treated. For these reasons, when healthcare organizations evaluate cloud providers, they must pay careful attention to not only the security technologies employed, but also how transparently access to and control over data is defined. For example, if a cloud provider encrypts data both at rest and in transit, that’s a strong technology credential—but healthcare organizations may also care how and by whom encryption keys are managed. Likewise, the circumstances under which a cloud provider can access patient data must be firmly defined. Obviously factors such as HIPAA compliance or FHIR compliance are important, but to establish trust throughout the ecosystems in which healthcare data is used, organizations should look beyond checking off basic security requirements and instead need to delve into the details.

Delivering more patient-centric care

Ultimately, all the accomplishment and potential lead back to patient experiences, patient outcomes, and how easily patients can access care. In this regard, Modahl’s allusion to omnichannel models in finance is insightful: just as those industries aspire for their channels to be customer-centric, healthcare organizations should aspire to develop patient-centric models designed around clinician input, clinician experience, and patient experience. Both the patient and the clinician are users in these models—and if both are not recognized, the models will fail.  

“As leaders, we need to understand exactly what people are trying to do and what is getting in the way,” Rosin asserted. “Software has to be designed for the reality of the patient and provider experience.” 

A patient’s access to care and likelihood of seeking care both increase as friction in the process is removed

Niren Kochhar, the Director of Digital Product Management at Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, agreed, also speaking to Becker’s: “[Patients don’t want to] download five apps to their phone — one to chat with a clinician, one for telemedicine visits, one to manage your account (claims and benefits) and so on.” 

A patient’s access to care and likelihood of seeking care both increase as friction in the process is removed and as the process becomes less bound to specific facilities, so these models are critical to improving both outcomes and equity. Likewise, for doctors, relationships with patients improve when technology streamlines processes, whether that involves self-service web portals that more efficiently connect patients to the right clinicians or AI solutions that can help doctors diagnose diseases from simple images, without requiring patients to visit hospitals or clinics. 

This burgeoning patient-centric model may soon be the norm, helping make care more fruitful and accessible for everyone. Much of IT modernization work has been done or is underway, and approaches to data management and patient models have evolved with lightning speed—and with these foundations in place, it’s time to chart out the next steps towards better equity and outcomes for all.  

Our Healthcare Data Interoperability report outlines the best practices from some of the healthcare industry’s most innovative leaders on their approaches to data interoperability. Download the report to learn how you can strengthen security, privacy, and compliance through effective data interoperability.

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