Lessons From Heathrow: A New Approach To Tech Preparedness in Healthcare

As a former McKinsey partner based in London, I got to know Heathrow Airport well. So this summer, I shuddered at the notorious photos of the more than 15,000 passenger bags from 90 different planes all piled up into a nightmare-ish luggage mountain that took over Terminal 2. To those 15,000 passengers, a lost bag was far more than a mishap –– the consequences were far-reaching and personal.

With my alma-”travel hub” serving as the backdrop of this clickbait news cycle, my interest was piqued. As it turns out, the Heathrow baggage disaster was caused by three main factors: First, demand for post-pandemic travel rose significantly this summer –– all the way back to pre-pandemic levels by June 2022. At the same time, Heathrow was not ready to meet that influx of globetrotters between its significant staffing shortages (30% below pre-pandemic levels) and its under-prepared baggage system technology, which experienced significant technical difficulties preceding “luggage-gate”.

There’s a reason this telltale story felt familiar to me beyond my personal experience with Heathrow: with the same three factors present (and arguably amplified) in healthcare, we face our own “baggage disaster” inflection point. As inpatient volumes come back to pre-pandemic levels, more patients than ever have new expectations for providers to help them stay well and offer convenient care, wherever they are. While we have an increase in demand, healthcare’s supply –– its workforce –– faces record-high staffing shortages and burnout among key roles. Technology should ideally help power this shifting care paradigm and serve to support the workforce, but instead is often more of a hindrance than an accelerator amid healthcare’s ever increasing pace of change. The fragmented state of our tech infrastructure leaves healthcare under-prepared to achieve the transformation we require.

After decades and billions spent investing in digitization, data generation, and new digital health tech in healthcare, how is it that Gartner still estimates that 4 out of 5 health systems are “unfit to thrive” amid industry disruption due to tech underpreparedness? Despite our digitization, we are still unable to effectively get the relevant health information to the right people at the right time to improve decision making –– especially when you move beyond the walls of a health system’s EHR. Simultaneously, we have an overwhelming explosion in data from new digital products and solutions such as remote patient monitoring, smart consumer devices, and new AI/ML algorithms to predict patient behavior and augment care.

Data for data’s sake is not sufficient: healthcare needs the ability to act on relevant data in real time. The volume of data generated by healthcare is growing 1.35x faster than the total global datasphere, yet we also have the least-used data set relative to other industries. We need to be able to take the data and the output of new algorithms and operationalize them in a way that is connected for the industry via optimized workflows, automated intelligence that allows everyone to work at the top of their license, and cross-ecosystem collaboration.

Consider how other industries have transformed in a way that facilitates this cross-industry action to benefit consumers and businesses alike. Financial services transformed dramatically toward instant payments and seamless experiences, in part powered by cross-ecosystem connectors such as companies like Plaid. The connections required for a new app to use different types of consumer financial information are actually quite difficult in financial services –– just like in healthcare, each bank has its own legacy architecture with security and privacy needs. Companies like Plaid work across the ecosystem through APIs, providing a connection layer to allow developers at apps like Venmo to securely and confidentially connect with and make transactions with any consumer bank account. Using these types of tools, new fintech companies and existing players in financial services can innovate at scale without having to worry about the back-end infrastructure.

The ability to connect information through APIs across the industry is a starting point, and we have more companies in healthcare now working in the data aggregation space. Beyond the data connection, though, health organizations require the transactional systems and innovation toolkits that can support scalable innovation that works with existing health IT systems. We finally have a chance to provide this with an entirely new approach to tech –– the healthtech operating system –– which gives multiple stakeholders across the ecosystem the tools to take meaningful action in a highly coordinated and interoperable way.

The healthtech operating system is game-changing because it critically pairs two essential capabilities: connecting and surfacing critical data to the right person in real-time, and powering workflows that drive scalable innovation with reusable building blocks. At Commure, we’re building CommureOS: a platform that integrates with and organizes clinical and nonclinical data sources, gives you the tools to build connected workflows that surface data and insights and support a decision or action, and powers scalable innovation on top of a common architecture. The best part is that it is modular, and can work with health systems’ existing tech investments and future health tech – no matter what that “stack” looks like.

More is demanded of healthcare today than ever: today most health organizations are evaluating a new acquisition or partnership, shifting care to the home, moving into value-based care, and assessing how to best optimize workforce satisfaction and productivity. A health tech operating system will allow health organizations to leverage their existing technologies and maximize their investments, all while increasing the connectivity and even more importantly –– actionability –– of data between systems. Reusable building blocks and repeatable connections mean that you can significantly lower the cost to maintain your solutions and scale future innovations much more rapidly.

A healthtech OS will help power the whole ecosystem. For example, a care manager could see a unified patient record with historical clinical data, health insurance information, and contact preferences in a single view with workflows that connect to all of the relevant stakeholders (the patient, their physicians, family and caregivers). A digital health innovator could connect to scalable platforms rather than individually to each health system, payer, and employer. Activities like prior authorization and payer-provider collaboration in value based care can be coordinated and connected across companies rather than siloed. And the many digital front door efforts for patients can be linked to provide a more seamless experience.

In a world where care is changing, almost all executives recognize that technology is the linchpin in achieving agility and transformation: 92% believe their organization’s ability to generate business value depends on the limitations of their technology architecture. That means healthcare needs to be re-architected from the inside out. We need to ensure that as an industry ecosystem, we don’t inadvertently end up like a broken down airport baggage system –– with slews of health data crammed into inaccessible spaces without reaching their intended destination. Instead, we should shift to a technology infrastructure that can enable agile and responsive healthcare organizations amid the never-ending conveyor belt of strategic priorities. By introducing this new category to healthcare, Commure hopes to open up endless possibilities for healthcare to chart its own destiny.