Experian Health: 2021 was the Year of Defiance

Last year saw the U.S. healthcare system mobilize in a herculean effort to vaccinate the nation and a new pivot to a care model that blended telehealth and in-office care. But it also showed weaknesses in old ways of doing things, says Tom Cox, president of Experian Health — and a need for new payment models and technologies that empower patients and providers alike. Read his thoughts in the PYMNTS eBook, “In a Word: 50 Thought Leaders Sum Up 2021.”


A year ago, I would have suggested “grueling” as a fitting descriptor. This time around, I think “defiance” best characterizes what I’ve seen and experienced.

The delta variant’s summer and fall “stress test” bent but did not break the healthcare system. Providers chose to keep in place many of the adaptations and revised workflows that had been hastily implemented in the early days of the pandemic — and, armed with knowledge and many new tools, the attitude was different. Still, pushed to the limits? Absolutely. But fear and hopelessness were replaced by gritty defiance. There was the will to fight back — and win.

Few things showcased this like the herculean effort to vaccinate America. Healthcare providers, and the army of solution partners that supported them, pivoted from solely focusing on COVID care to instead driving patient traffic back to healthcare settings for vaccinations and general care. Potentially a logistical nightmare, it turned into a historic achievement. The touchless systems that were set up during the pandemic’s first wave rose to the occasion, allowing millions of people to schedule vaccinations from their desktops and mobile devices — even enabling mass rescheduling of appointments in the face of natural disasters. 

That success likely influenced responses in Experian Health’s State of Patient Access 2.0 study, where 88% of providers indicated that they were “probably” or “definitely” planning to invest in patient intake capabilities due to the pandemic.

The pandemic also drove interest in data, machine learning and automation, which are poised to revolutionize the patient journey and fill some gaps left by a critical staffing shortage. The pandemic’s impact on the economy, employment and demographics has even altered healthcare’s approach to collections. By incorporating non-health data, providers are improving collections while simultaneously creating a better experience for the patient. 

Personally, my wife and I were elated to get the email from our healthcare provider that announced our eligibility for the vaccine. It was easy to schedule the appointment online and underscored how there’s been some positive change amidst the pandemic’s pain. We’ve once again seen that the worst situations often bring about the best solutions. Our collective defiance has a lot to do with that. I saw it across the entire spectrum, from the frontline heroes to the many healthcare solution partners who pivoted in unison with the providers. Not alpha, beta, gamma, delta or now omicron could impede the progress of the healthcare system. We would not — we will not — be defeated.