By Robbie Hughes, Founder and CEO, Lumeon

For all of the criticism that the airline industry receives, there is one thing it has mastered: creating a seamless, digitally integrated experience for the customer journey, with automated coordination across all stakeholders and touchpoints. This helps grow the airline’s revenue (‘welcome back Mr. Hughes’), whilst improving the customer experience (‘your flight is delayed by 18 minutes’) and simultaneously cutting costs (‘you may find it easier to book your next flight on our new app!’). Just as a customer’s journey is orchestrated by the airline, healthcare organizations should be guiding patients through their journeys as well.

Central to this effort are real-time health systems that operate based on real-time data and analytics-driven insight. Gartner considers them “a management and operating paradigm…for the next-generation healthcare provider.” Just as Amazon and other retail giants are using digitally enhanced operating models to join up and automate their business, healthcare organizations are now considering ways that data can be used to streamline and improve the patient journey in real time.

What’s interesting is that much of this innovation isn’t coming from the U.S., but from the European private sector, which is having to ‘consumerize’ the healthcare experience out of competitive necessity. Its competition isn’t just cheaper, but is actually free, so if patients are paying for private healthcare, their experience must be outstanding. Real-time health systems in Europe are successfully using technology to collect data about patient preferences and their care journeys, synthesize information and automate interventions to ensure that patients get the exact care that they need when they need it.

The U.S. hasn’t reached this point yet, but it will soon be top of mind as healthcare costs become increasingly unpredictable. Right now, when patients decide between physicians, many opt for the doctor that gives them what they ask for because they consider this a good healthcare experience. Real-time health systems will raise the bar and help re-frame this argument, proving instead that a good healthcare experience means a patient is looked after, well-managed by a coordinated care team and ultimately, gets better faster. A subtle, but critical difference if we are to move the argument forward for better care at a lower cost.

Real-time health systems are achievable today. Indeed, the technology exists to enable organizations to orchestrate and automate processes in real-time, personalizing the patient experience while streamlining care team activity. But before all organizations can realize their potential, they must overcome one major industry pain-point: the customer is often not the patient.

This stems from the way physicians have been paid. In many of today’s U.S. healthcare systems, even though it isn’t explicitly stated, the patient isn’t actually considered the “customer.” In reality, it’s the external physician that is truly the customer, as they own the relationship with the patient – upset the physician and they can practice elsewhere, taking their referrals and patients with them. The employment status of its affiliated physicians is one of the core reasons why some hospitals are able to implement system-level change quickly, and why others simply can’t.

However, this is now beginning to change. New payment models shift the value to focus on the end-to-end process and outcome, as we are seeing with hip and knee and cardiovascular bundled payment models. This means that rather than IT infrastructure being built around the physician, it must instead be designed to enable care teams to collaboratively engage the patient across the end-to-end journey. The industry must accept the idea that organizational re-design is going to be necessary before achieving a real-time future that truly consumerizes the healthcare experience.

In the next five years, we are going to see increasing polarization of this dynamic. On the one hand there will be those that are slow to move and rely on their reputation, while on the other, there will be organizations that retain the best physicians through an integrated end-to-end care process that enables their physicians and care teams to achieve consistently high results together. My best guess is that surgery is where a lot of this pain will be felt first: rock-star physicians attracting patients on their historical reputation will start migrating to truly integrated practice units implementing enhanced recovery after surgery (ERAS) pathways that deliver better outcomes with half the recovery time and complications.

The ‘money spinner’ of the big hospital systems is about to be disrupted. Only time will tell whether the consumer sits up and pays attention, or whether the old billboards up and down the highway espousing ‘better care’ are enough to convince the consumer that things have changed. All indications are that the consumer will soon start to be influenced by new outcome data and quality metrics, and will naturally gravitate towards those health systems that deliver the best personalized and integrated patient journey – we call this Real Time Health System Orchestration (RTHSO).

One thing is for sure, we’re going to be in for a bumpy ride.