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Tech may not be an easy solution to health systems’ financial challenges

Health systems are facing a difficult financial future as labor costs soar and the population ages, increasing demand just as hospitals have less resources to serve them, said panelists at the 2023 HIMSS Global Health Conference & Exhibition.

Kaveh Safavi, senior managing director of healthcare at Accenture, is concerned access is going to become a much bigger issue. Though he’s hopeful that technology like generative AI could ease some of the documentation and administrative burden on providers, that future might not come soon enough.

“I actually think that tech is going to give us an answer. I’m not sure we’re going to be able to take advantage of it as quickly as we need to,” he said. 

Cris Ross, chief information officer at the Mayo Clinic, said he thinks technology like ChatGPT will gain traction, but he’s not ready to unleash it yet. For one, the technology sometimes confidently spouts false information

And he argues many health systems simply won’t be able to take advantage of the technology at all. 

“I think for many, many health systems for whom their IT department is the phone call to their EHR vendor, they don’t have the wherewithal to invest in sophisticated technologies,” he said. “And it’s going to have to be the hyperscale companies that can assist them because they can do things at scale.”

Larry Leisure, founder and managing director of Chicago Pacific Founders, said the increasing cost of healthcare may soon come to a head. Employers simply can’t push costs onto their employees any more. 

“For a whole swath of lower and middle income workers, they can’t afford deductibles and coinsurance,” he said. “And so this notion that we’re going to be able to do some additional cost shifting is highly problematic.”

Steven Nelson, president of Contigo Health, said the industry frequently talks about how patients are acting more like consumers, but many aren’t very engaged, only checking into their benefits at the very last minute. 

“I think it’s going to be hard to refresh the consumer and get them to take concern unless they’re chronically ill and it’s that meaningful, unless they have a substance use disorder problem, unless they have a diagnosis or something with their family member,” he said. “I just think it takes something else to get everybody at the table. Even in this conference, are we really, truly engaged in our benefits to reduce that demand? I don’t know if we are.”

But Safavi argues the idea that demand for healthcare can be easily prevented is an “appealing mythology.” Many diseases are driven by genetic and social factors, and the healthcare system will struggle to address some of the nation’s biggest public health concerns, like gun violence.

“These are super complicated. It’s a combination of genetic and environmental factors that happen in certain sequences. Making good life choices may or may not work,” he said. “There are so many things that are going into it, to me it’s just harder and harder to have confidence that if you just live a good life it’s going to be enough.”

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