2021 Acceleration: Funding Innovation

Clinician sitting at a microscope

In 2021, the world is facing a critical demand for the acceleration of health, which can only be addressed by first establishing a proper diagnosis. Members of the HIMSS leadership team have identified some of the common problem areas we share as a global society and a health citizenship, and they have provided recommendations on how best to meet this need for acceleration. Ultimately, the accelerated delivery of solutions in healthcare is vital to realizing the full health potential of every human, everywhere.

Information technology has always been at the center of innovation. It has created a path for the best data to be delivered at the right time to guide accurate and informed decision-making, an approach that is leveraged across industries. However, in healthcare – due in part to a complex array of stakeholders, a web of IT systems, concerns around data privacy and safeguards to protect patient health and safety – innovation has often lagged. That is, until now.

Read more on 2021 Acceleration:

Neil Patel


"Innovation is a commitment – a multi-year commitment. It's something that doesn't pay off immediately, and it needs to be invested in to really work."
– Neil Patel, Executive Vice President, Healthbox


At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, health systems rightly prioritized speed in implementing digital solutions to minimize service disruption in the face of crisis. All these efforts in 2020 enabled health systems to be much better prepared to ramp up on virtual care than they were in March. They have the muscle memory and process and technology infrastructure to scale back up, but they now find themselves left with redundant vendors and a need to consolidate, secure and increase efficiency.

2021 will be a time to clean up the mess COVID-19 created without reintroducing the bureaucracy that plagued digital adoption. If successful, 2021 will feel like less of a frenzy for patients, physicians and administrators, and healthcare will be in a fundamentally better place than it was before the pandemic.

Almost one year since the pandemic's start, health systems are still trying to recover financially, with budgets depressed, well below the typical baseline. However, it's no secret that innovation is an additional operating expense with an often vague ROI. In 2021, discretionary budgets will be limited, and making the case to prioritize innovation will be a challenge unto itself. Some health systems may choose to invest in elements of it – for instance, virtual care because it allowed them to maintain business as usual during the pandemic. But how will they justify a larger innovation budget?

Limited net patient revenue due to COVID-19 restrictions and bandwidth has forced reprioritization. Strategic planning timelines shifted from years to days and weeks, and most innovation projects, which by definition have a longer-term outlook, took a back seat. In 2021, health systems will focus their innovation strategies on the horizon instead of issues that are right in front of them. A key area of focus will be provider burnout and, broadly, the workforce's mental health. Providers have been running on adrenaline for most of 2020, and an under-recognized benefit of innovation programs is the cultural lift it delivers.

2020 saw its fair share of mega-mergers, those announced and completed, and those that fell apart during negotiations. 2021 will see a continuation of this trend as the haves and the have-nots will continue to create distance. Health systems on the upper tier will look at opportunistically acquiring health systems hurting because of COVID-19 in a continued effort to consolidate and fend off disruptors and other incumbents.

On the legislative side, a split Congress will mean significant healthcare reform is unlikely, but it will also mean that the PPACA is safe. Innovation in payment models will continue to advance, however slowly, through CMMI, while Medicare Advantage will be relied upon as a mechanism to bend the cost curve.

All that said, the healthcare agenda's focus in 2021 will be COVID-19 related, leaving access, affordability and cost-containment to 2022 and beyond.

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