emerging liquid workforce in healthcare

Healthcare’s Liquid Workforce Has Arrived and Patients Are Center Stage

A new report from Accenture highlights five major trends in digital health, and one may surprise you. The report, Digital Health Technology Vision 2017, looks at how innovations in artificial intelligence (AI), internet of things (IOT), mobility, blockchain and the cloud are all converging to “create a perfect storm of healthcare transformation.”

Whether you’re new to the world of digital health or you’ve long been steeped in it, this is exciting stuff. The report cites several compelling examples of how digital innovation is increasing productivity, improving clinical outcomes and changing the way people interact with the healthcare system.

liquid workforce trend in healthcare

Accenture: Digital innovation is driving healthcare transformation – Accenture


Patient-Centered Digital Innovation

One example is CVS Health, a healthcare company mostly known for filling prescriptions through street corner brick-and-mortar pharmacies. This is the same company that now offers its customers a smartwatch-compatible mobile app so they can set medication reminders, take pictures of their prescriptions to expedite refills, and access services like Teledoc so they can receive care via phone or video chat.

Another example is Onduo, a platform that enables clinicians, payers, and healthcare professionals to collaborate on the delivery of precision care management solutions to people with type 2 diabetes. A joint venture of Verily Life Sciences and Sanofi, the company takes a multi-stakeholder approach, drawing upon the expertise of payers and providers, as well as diabetes advocates.

These examples, and others cited by Accenture, reflect a shift in how healthcare organizations collaborate to facilitate patient-centered care. As the report states, “Healthcare organizations have begun to realize that healthcare should be organized around the patient, not the enterprise.” Sounds simple, but this is healthcare – change comes slowly.


A Stand-out Trend

One trend in the Accenture report stands out, not because of how much buzz there is around it, but how little.

Unlike IOT and AI, this trend has no acronym. In contrast to mobility and connected health, it garners little ink in the trade press and is rarely the stuff of keynote speeches.

Yet according to Accenture, it’s as fundamental to the future of the healthcare enterprise as the cloud itself.

Enter the “liquid workforce.” It’s a trend Accenture has been tracking for a while, but until recently, it has been conspicuously absent in healthcare. The liquid workforce is characterized by on-demand labor platforms, crowdsourcing, and other online work management solutions that enable companies to hire people with deep expertise for highly specialized tasks.

Two forces have come together to make the liquid workforce possible:

  • new technology platforms that enable on-demand hiring of people with specialized skills, and
  • a labor market that is changing dramatically, with some estimates suggesting that 43% of the U.S. workforce will be in the freelance economy by 2020.

For Accenture, a behemoth consulting firm with clients in 120 countries, there’s supporting evidence that the future of work has already arrived. Financial services, transportation, and hospitality are among the industries that have embraced marketplace platforms to source freelance talent.

Healthcare, on the other hand, has been notoriously slow to shed its legacy models. To be fair, some of that is by design. It helps ensure safety and it’s a logical response to the demands of a highly-regulated industry.

But healthcare is no longer immune. “Healthcare’s digital leaders are beginning to shape strategies to fundamentally reinvent their workforces” says Accenture. These leaders are chipping away at the “rigid functional hierarchies of traditional healthcare enterprises” and changing the way work is “sourced, shared, and delivered.”


Technology Enables the Liquid Workforce

This shift toward the liquid workforce is particularly evident in the context of clinical interactions. Virtual care platforms such as American Well’s Exchange offer consumers on-demand access to board-certified doctors who can clock-in at any time and provide telehealth consultations. Accenture sees this technological trend extending to highly specialized labor platforms that offer everything from nursing triage assistance to data scientists and software developers.

Perhaps not surprisingly, this is happening faster in areas of the healthcare enterprise where regulatory barriers are lower, such as technology, human resources, finance, and R&D. Areas where on-demand labor platforms can offer organizations specialized talent when and where it’s needed.

At WEGO Health, we’ve been watching this trend unfold in real-time since last February. That’s when we launched WEGO Health Experts, an on-demand digital matching platform that enables healthcare organizations to find and hire highly-specialized talent in the form of Patient Experts. These are individuals who bring to healthcare the unique expertise and knowledge gained from personally managing a chronic or complex health condition.

In some respects, Patient Experts represent the ultimate liquid workforce. About a third of the Experts on our platform work part-time, either by choice or necessity. Managing complex health conditions requires frequent and often unanticipated doctor visits. It invariably involves long waits in clinics, the occasional long stay in hospitals, and long lines at the corner pharmacy.  It often requires stressful back-and-forth discussions with health plans regarding benefits, pre-authorizations, and delayed payments to providers.

As such, compared to other workers in the gig economy, Patient Experts benefit disproportionately from the flexibility that comes with freelance consulting work. At the same time, healthcare companies and the agencies that work with them are discovering that open talent marketplaces offering patient expertise can add unique value to the enterprise.


Increasing Demand for Healthcare’s Liquid Workforce

Take BrandTrust, a Chicago-based healthcare consulting firm that works with a broad range of clients, including life sciences companies bringing new therapies to market. When BrandTrust needed to quickly convene a cohort of more than two dozen patients and caregivers affected by Gaucher disease, the company hired Leanna Mullen, a Patient Expert who not only has the condition, but is also widely recognized by her peers as a patient leader in online patient communities.

“As a company that focuses on the human aspect of market research, we were extremely delighted by our experience with WEGO Health Experts,” said AJ Avedon, a research consultant at BrandTrust. “Recruiting the niche patient population we were searching for would have never been possible without [Leanna’s] help.”

According to the Accenture report, 71% of health executives agree that organizations that succeed in building a strong liquid workforce “will win the war on talent.” Today, more than ever, that workforce includes not just healthcare professionals, but Patient Experts who can offer healthcare enterprise-level specialized skills, along with the unique expertise that comes from years of navigating the healthcare system as a patient or caregiver.

Make no mistake: the future of work has arrived, and so has the future of healthcare. Look for Patient Experts to be at the center of both.

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