But the right response isn’t so easy to identify. Healthcare leaders: are you ambidextrous enough?

The feeling is palpable—humanity’s collective low-grade anxiety. It persists despite COVID-19 being increasingly in the rear-view mirror. Whether it’s war in Europe, potential economic recession, climate-related angst, or increasing healthcare demands (and costs) in the face of dwindling resources; global instability persists. It’s no surprise that collective human stress does, too. Wellbeing, these days, is a function of people’s ability to live their lives happily despite the permacrisis.[1]

The dual challenge for healthcare leaders

Given its centrality to wellbeing, health organizations’ role in meeting basic needs and softening that anxiety would be difficult to overstate. However, permacrisis creates severe pressure on healthcare leaders and their organizations, too. For example, there simply aren’t enough hands to care for the numbers of people needing care. Healthcare leaders need to embrace technology where appropriate to decrease the reliance on human capital. In other words, core challenges (growing demand for care with dwindling resources) must be met while understanding and harnessing new technology releases in areas like generative AI, digital identity and the broader metaverse continuum.

Accenture Life Trends 2023 reveals the personal changes people are making to harness technology and survive the permacrisis. Those changes apply profoundly to the healthcare that is so inextricably linked to their collective wellbeing. Permacrisis creates an existential threat and healthcare leaders must respond—inaction means certain failure. But the right response isn’t so easy to identify.

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In our view, organizations need ambidextrous leaders. They need practical visionaries who can stabilize and deliver on the core business of care while embracing (and simultaneously learning) new technology. These leaders must challenge the status quo if their organizations are to emerge as leaders.

People and providers both affected

In short, the very heart of healthcare has been destabilized. Healthcare leaders confirm that the destabilization manifests from both people and provider viewpoints.

Globally, mental health is worsening—with a 26 percent increase in pandemic-driven anxiety disorders[1] and one in four youth facing depression.[2] Rising inflation doesn’t help matters, as healthcare affordability declines and consumers take drastic steps like scaling back medications or deferring care. Some 66 percent of therapists report that rising costs of living are impacting people’s mental health. Ironically, a lack of affordability is causing 47 percent of patients to cancel the very therapy they need to cope.[3]

Healthcare providers, on the other hand, face dual human resource and financial pressures. Higher demand for care, coupled with a workforce shortage, has led to burnout (including resignations or migration to other industries) and even nursing strikes. Increased demand for care and static or declining budgets have resulted in low or even negative profit margins.

It stands to reason, healthcare providers that don’t deliver on people’s expectations face further financial pressure as (particularly younger) people will seek other companies who will deliver. 

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Organizations need ambidextrous leaders. They need practical visionaries who can stabilize and deliver on the core business of care while embracing (and simultaneously learning) new technology

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The ambidextrous leader’s headache

The challenges faced by people and providers both ultimately affect the patient experiences. An eroded experience spells potential disaster for health organizations both in terms of loyalty and costs.

Accenture’s study titled: Health experience: The difference between loyalty and leaving, revealed that 25 percent of consumers switched providers because they were unhappy, and that (to keep them loyal) millennials care three to four times more about care experiences than older generations do. Additionally, 34 percent of respondents said they may skip future medical care due to a bad experience. For health insurers, that most likely means more medical expenses later.

As if that weren’t enough cause for concern, healthcare organizations also must understand the implications of emerging, disruptive technology. Generative AI has captivated the nation. For example, ChatGPT was launched as a research preview on November 30, 2022. It reached a million users within five days and January and February user numbers were 57 and 100 million respectively. This kind of generative AI could be employed in healthcare as a creative co-pilot, functional chat bot, digital therapy companion or even aid in new drug discovery and diagnostics. There are even more use cases for healthcare in the broader metaverse continuum and healthcare organizations can’t afford to ignore these new technologies.

At the same time, ambidextrous leaders will need to keep vital consumer trust in mind when engaging technology that is still in its infancy. Carelessly carrying forward bias or jeopardizing people’s data could further damage already-precarious relationships. Yet, while it presents a learning challenge and may take time to perfect, technology’s ability to help leaders explore new relationship frontiers may be the crucial ingredient needed to build and improve people’s healthcare experiences.

Three things you should do as soon as possible

We recommend you invest not only in today’s needs but in your business’ future potential to enable Total Enterprise Reinvention—and apply governance to extract value from those investments. Total Enterprise Reinvention isn’t a to do; it’s a to be. It requires continuous, dynamic reinvention. It becomes a unifying force across the C-suite and every function and business area, because, by definition, all are involved and accountable for its success.

Address the old and the new in three ways:  

  • Portfolio innovation: of course, technological innovation should improve the bottom line. But it’s not enough to throw money at new tech. When you invest in today’s needs as well as future potential to extract value from those investments, we call this Portfolio Innovation: the application of incremental and non-incremental (breakthrough or disruptive) innovation across businesses with different maturity levels.
  • Care Delivery Reinvention: rethink how care (and its supporting back-office functions) are delivered to improve performance, costs and create future-proof cost and capacity structures. Imagine a process reinvention that could delegate tasks like confirming prescriptions and requesting medical records to employees with the right licensure so that nurses can focus on patient care. Imagine care delivery reinvention that enables patients to complete intake forms from home, before an appointment. Or, as we describe in Accenture’s 2022 Digital Health Technology Vision, to consult with their doctor in an augmented reality setting or receive physical therapy in the metaverse continuum. The technology exists.
  • Build a permanent growth capability: as serial entrepreneurs and authors David Kidder and Christina Wallace point out in their book[1], New to Big: “…operational efficiency and outdated bureaucracy are at war with new growth. Legacy companies are skilled at growing big businesses into even bigger ones. But they are less adept at discovering new opportunities and turning them into big businesses, the way entrepreneurs and early-stage investors must.” Ambidextrous leaders must discover the secret to installing a permanent growth capability inside any company. Kidder and Wallace argue that by “focusing on what consumers do rather than what they say, celebrating productive failure, embracing a portfolio approach, and learning from the outside-in, any company can go on offense and win the future.”

 Accenture Life Trends 2023 confirms the thinking. Ultimately, ambidextrous leaders should use both core delivery and measured innovation. Given the permacrisis we are in, the healthcare industry’s status quo cannot continue. Ambidextrous leaders who take care of their standard operations while challenging norms with measured and appropriate technology adoption will help humanize healthcare to improve access, experience and outcomes.

Thank you to Joshua Kraus and Casey McCreary for their contributions to this blog.

[1] “An extended period of instability and insecurity.” Collins Dictionary, 2022, https://www.collinsdictionary.com/woty (accessed March 1, 2023)

[2] Lancet, October 8, 2021, COVID-19 pandemic led to stark rise in depressive and anxiety disorders globally in 2020, with women and younger people most affected, https://www.healthdata.org/news-release/lancet-covid-19-pandemic-led-stark-rise-depressive-and-anxiety-disorders-globally-2020 (Accessed April 5, 2023)

[3] CNN Health, August 10, 2021, Youth depression and anxiety doubled during the pandemic, new analysis finds, https://edition.cnn.com/2021/08/10/health/covid-child-teen-depression-anxiety-wellness/index.html (Accessed April 5, 2023)

[4] Jemma Crew, Evening Standard, “People cancelling therapy sessions because they can no longer afford them – BACP,” September 7, 2022 https://www.standard.co.uk/news/health/people-government-nhsengland-b1023939.html (Accessed April 5, 2023)

[5] Amazon.com: New to Big: How Companies Can Create Like Entrepreneurs, Invest Like VCs, and Install a Permanent Operating System for Growth: 9780525573593: Kidder, David, Wallace, Christina: Books

Brian Kalis

Managing Director – Strategy Lead, Health, Accenture

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