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Readers Write: Why 2022 Will Be the Year of Wide Adoption of Blockchain Technology in Healthcare

January 17, 2022 Readers Write 6 Comments

Why 2022 Will Be the Year of Wide Adoption of Blockchain Technology in Healthcare
By Stuart Hanson

Stuart Hanson, MBA is CEO of Avaneer Health of Chicago, IL,

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To all the HIStalk readers who are skeptical of blockchain in healthcare, this one is especially for you. I look forward to discussing further with each of you!

I believe the inability to lifecycle manage and effortlessly share data (with patient permission) is one of the biggest problems in our health system today. As an industry, we must be able to track clinical insights with administrative data together, in order to maintain a complete view of the individual and their specific needs. As we all know, there is no way to dynamically link data in joint processes with multiple parties at scale that is automated, permissioned, traceable, and highly secure. This must change.

The first step is to view healthcare data as a digital asset. Blockchain makes this possible.

Blockchain technology solves many of the challenges with digital asset management as we’ve seen with cryptocurrency. By viewing patient data as a digital asset, we can shift our view from the technology, processes, and workflows used to manage patient data and begin focusing on how blockchain can become part of the healthcare ecosystem.

While large organizations rapidly identified ways to use blockchain, the technology has shown itself to be disruptive to processes, business models, and competitive environments, resulting in a slow adoption of blockchain in healthcare. However, the industry is learning from its initial efforts and is ready to use blockchain as the following elements become more real:

  • Governance. Blockchain enables coopetition in a way that existing technology cannot. The idea of hospitals joining a community of trust with payers is unheard of, but is made possible with a governance structure that can be trusted and powered by blockchain. We’ve seen how Cleveland Clinic and Sentara Healthcare have teamed with payers like Anthem, HCSC, and Aetna to develop a blockchain-enabled network. They formed a consortium and spent several years developing the governance framework, then founded Avaneer Health to use the governance structure and develop its healthcare utility network infrastructure for accessing data, deploying solutions, and creating a marketplace.
  • Use cases for permissioned, nationwide blockchain are emerging. Administrative processes in healthcare are burdened with waste and inefficiency. In the midst of this challenge, a blockchain-enabled network eliminates the need for point-to-point connectivity by creating an environment of “connect once to many.” Also, a blockchain-enabled network functions as a verifiable trust layer for joint processes between participants on the network. Because of that agreed, verifiable trust function, counter-party risk of data sharing is significantly reduced. Each participant on the blockchain knows with a certified verification that the other partiers are “good actors” and agree to interact with each other using automatically enforced standards. No other middleman data processing entity is needed to guarantee the integrity of the data or transaction. Only once all the participants can verify trust against the others in how, why, and when they will interact, does truly continuous dynamic data updates and sharing becomes possible. This is the vision for the future state for all healthcare organizations.
  • Momentum creates more momentum. Many early blockchain healthcare initiatives struggled with adoption and languished in research and development. They seemed all but doomed because of the lack of collaboration. However, that’s no longer the case with the payers and providers mentioned above. Together, they have created a blockchain network with a collective 80 million covered lives and 14 million annual patient visits. And organizations like PNC Bank are now launching solutions that impact thousands of providers and numerous payers nationwide. This is what momentum looks like and it’s just the beginning as large organizations see they have a vested interest in participating.

Healthcare innovators have developed solutions using blockchain for medical supply chain, health credential validation, provider credentialing, patient data security, and life sciences. It’s time to broaden our scope to look at all healthcare processes as opportunities for transformation using blockchain. The train has left the station. Are you on board?

Readers Write: Five Ways to Increase the Value of Your EMR

January 10, 2022 Readers Write No Comments

Five Ways to Increase the Value of Your EMR
By Jason Friedman

Jason Friedman is VP of sales for EVideon of Grand Rapids, MI.

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In a 2021 survey by Stoltenberg Consulting, 59% of hospital CIOs said getting the most out of their IT purchases, such as their EMR, is the biggest financial goal for next year. EMRs and EHRs have given rise to digital transformation in healthcare, and there’s no denying that adopting these tools has forever changed the way clinicians and healthcare staff do their jobs.

Yet, our industry is at a tipping point. The field of nursing is in crisis. Clinicians are burned out. There is a widening gap in health inequity. Trends in healthcare consumerism are putting increased pressure on a strained system. Never has it been so clear that it is time to think differently about the future of healthcare technology.

How can we do this? 

Deliver patient-centered care by personalizing the patient journey

The first step is to shift the focus of the EMR back to the patient by presenting information in an understandable and meaningful manner.

A digital whiteboard, when integrated with your EMR, is a centralized information hub for patients, families, and care teams, providing real-time health information that will improve care coordination as well as the overall care experience. Integration with the EMR and other installed technologies allows hospitals to personalize the patient journey with tailor messaging and targeted patient education.

In a recent research study, Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) in Boston, one of the top-ranked hospitals in the US, partnered with a consortium of companies to research the impact of in-room digital whiteboards on communication and patient satisfaction in the emergency department. The study showed that 96% of participants preferred a room with a digital whiteboard as it improved communication and helped them feel more informed throughout their stay and prior to discharge.

In addition, 70% said the digital whiteboard helped them better understand what was happening during their stay. Beyond keeping patients informed, the whiteboards display patient information seamlessly, leaving little room for human error and allowing clinicians to focus on providing quality care.

Automate clinical workflows to enhance the clinician experience

We all know how overloaded and stressed nurses are, especially during this pandemic. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association found that higher EMR usability scores are associated with lower odds of burnout, and those usability scores have sharply declined. Specifically, researchers found that among 1,285 nurses who responded to a November 2017 survey about usability and burnout, the mean nurse-rated EMR usability score was 57.6. A 2019 study by the Mayo Clinic also supported that finding.

It’s time to make technology work for both patients and the care team. By integrating nutrition services, real-time location systems (RTLS), room controls, and other technology elements, you can automate many administrative tasks. For example, when a digital whiteboard is integrated with the EMR, nurses no longer need to manually update dry erase boards (or chase down a working marker). Advanced technology can turn the patient room into an extension of the care team, enabling clinicians to better focus on direct patient care.

Increase patient satisfaction

Patients naturally feel a sense of unease in a hospital. They’re away from home and feeling a loss of control, all while being worried about their health. Giving patients the ability to control elements in their room such as room temperature, shades, and lights, through an integration with building control systems, is a small thing that can have a big impact.

Giving control and self service back to patients can positively impact their overall rating and likelihood to recommend the hospital on their HCAHPS survey. For example, letting patients order their meals from their TV or other device – through an integration with nutrition services solutions such as Computrition, CBORD, or Morrison – puts patients in control, reminding them of the concierge service they get at home from apps like DoorDash and GrubHub.

A personalized, end-to-end experience and environment can enhance satisfaction. A television that greets patients by name as they enter the room provides easily accessible entertainment (movies and streaming TV), enables video visits with loved ones, and displays relaxation content that helps with stress and sleep can all contribute to a supportive patient environment.

In addition, announcing care team members on the TV as they enter the room, via RTLS integration, provides patients with a sense of security that the person in the room should actually be there.

Hospitals can also automate non-clinical service requests. From their room, patients can request clean linens, a visit from the chaplain, or other available hospital services.

Lastly, hospitals can keep a pulse on patient sentiment using pop-up surveys that unobtrusively collect patient feedback while they enjoy entertainment or education. Real-time insights can be automatically routed to key departments for service recovery, ensuring dissatisfiers don’t turn into HCAHPS issues.

Inform and protect patients, staff and visitors

Technology innovation can have a major impact on patient safety and workforce safety initiatives. One way to reduce harm and avoid preventable errors is using the EMR as the single source of truth to keep team members informed and aware of critical patient information.

Digital door signs that are integrated with the EMR can display critical safety information just outside the patient room. Real-time access to accurate health information can not only save staff time by eliminating the need to log into the EMR, but it also keeps them informed of any and all precautions or life-saving steps they may need to take.

Digitizing broad communications is another great way to keep patients, staff, and visitors safe. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals have leveraged digital signage to automatically disseminate crucial information like hand washing protocols, visitation policies, and other urgent COVID-19 related information.

Automating and digitizing manual processes reduces human error and empowers care care teams by giving them instant access to accurate, reliable, and real-time patient information when they need it most.

Manage your digital front door strategy

Rising trends in healthcare consumerism continue to push hospitals to integrate new technologies and enhance existing technologies to do more. Collecting real-time patient feedback and creating meaningful connections with your patients wherever they are, whenever they need you will help to build brand loyalty and drive utilization.

A tech-enabled experience before, during, and after the hospital stay can not only yield better health outcomes, but also influence hospital choice. Let patients complete forms prior to admission, and help them prepare for a visit and care post-discharge by sending patient care guidelines and education directly to a personal device. Delivering a care experience that is more convenient, meaningful, and effective for patients and their families will make your organization the preferred choice for today’s consumer.

EMRs can work in concert with other technologies to elevate the care experience for patients, families, and clinicians, making it seamless in ways that other industries like travel and banking have already done. Leveraging the EMR and integrating surrounding technologies also future-proofs the technology investments hospitals and health systems have already made.

It’s time to stop thinking about systems in isolation, and instead think about how systems can work together to produce a better net effect. What else is possible now and how can we leverage our current IT investments to do better?

Readers Write: If It’s Not Easy, It’s Wrong: Why Easy Is the Answer for Healthcare

January 10, 2022 Readers Write 2 Comments

If It’s Not Easy, It’s Wrong: Why Easy Is the Answer for Healthcare
By Arun Mohan, MD, MBA

Arun Mohan, MD, MBA  is president of Relatient of Franklin, TN.

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Years ago, as a medical resident, I spent a lot of time in the cardiac stepdown unit. I was caring for patients who had suffered heart attacks or exacerbations of heart failure or had had various cardiac procedures. One of the patients was a 60-year-old woman I’ll call Mary who had hard-to-control heart failure. Due to a rare disease, Mary’s heart didn’t pump like it should.

After a recent hospitalization—her third in as many months—I was determined to break the cycle. I spent time reviewing everything about her case. We prescribed a diet that we thought would keep Mary healthy. We adjusted her medications, adding multiple doses of short-acting drugs to titrate for maximum effectiveness. She was eager to follow the new plan, and I thought this would be the last time I saw her in the hospital.

About a week later, Mary was readmitted, again with swollen legs, trouble breathing, and chest pain. In our desire to maximize benefit, we had created a treatment regimen so complicated that it was almost impossible to adhere to.

Optimizing personal behavior is the holy grail of healthcare. It represents the single greatest opportunity to improve health outcomes since unhealthy behaviors account for nearly 40% of all deaths in the United States. But as anyone who has tried to change behavior knows, it is hard.

In one popular model, behavior is a function of one’s motivation, ability, and a prompt. In many industries, including healthcare, we pay a lot of attention to motivation (just consider the billions that go into advertising), but don’t think enough about ability. Put another way, it’s incredibly difficult to change someone’s motivation, but it’s often possible to make something easier to do.

You don’t have to look far to see how simplicity can drive positive action. Whether it’s retail, entertainment, finance, or travel, consumers are willing to pay more for simpler experiences and are more likely to recommend a brand because it is simple. So how does this look in healthcare?

24/7 Access Boosts Consumer Response

Given changes in how we work and live, consumers are increasingly looking for 24/7 access. Just think about the last time you made a purchase decision. Was it between the hours of 9 and 5? To what extent did lack of availability make you look elsewhere?

Consumer behavior applies just as much to medical appointments. Historically, appointments have been made over the phone when the doctor’s office is open, typically 9 to 5. But when practices offer 24/7 access, consumers follow. In our own data, nearly one-third of patients go online outside normal business hours to schedule appointments.

Consumers Prefer Mobile-First Communication

Each day, the average American spends 5.4 hours on a mobile phone. Mobile-first communication is the easiest way to get a patient’s attention and will elicit the fastest response or action time. Further, patients strongly prefer their mobile devices for communication; 67% of consumers say they prefer to text with organizations about appointments and scheduling and 75% say they are frustrated when they can’t respond to a text message from a business.

You can make things easy for patients by tying an action directly into a mobile workflow. For example, we recently worked with a large dermatology group that was struggling to get patients scheduled for their annual skin checks. With numerous patients missing appointments due to COVID in 2020, many hadn’t been scheduled for their visits in 2021. Calling, emailing, and even writing letters to patients had limited effect, with response rates under 10%. But simply sending patients a text message and offering them a personalized link to click and start the scheduling process boosted conversion to more than 60%.

To Simplify the Consumer Experience, Minimize Decision-Making

We know that business can increase conversion by minimizing choices. If a person is presented with too many choices, they are actually less likely to buy. In a clever experiment, psychologists Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper studied the impact of the number of jams on a display table on conversion. On a regular day at a local food market, customers would find a display table with 24 kinds of jams. On another day, at the same food market, people were given only six jam choices. Guess which display table yielded more sales? While the big table generated greater interest, people were much more likely to actually buy a jar of jam at the smaller table – about 10 times more likely.

We have seen similar results in healthcare, where patients like to be given concrete choices. For example, rather than asking people to schedule a vaccination, simply giving people a choice of one or two days for appointments improves conversion. In a recent COVID vaccination campaign, some patients were asked to schedule an appointment by clicking on a link that came through a text, while others were asked to choose between three appointments, also via text. The results? Patients asked to choose one of three appointments were twice as likely to schedule.

Start Simplifying by Eliminating Duplication

These actions may sound easy, but in healthcare, we make them hard. The good news is that consumers are eager for change that simplifies. If, as healthcare leaders, we reexamine how we’re engaging patients and delivering care, we can create quick wins.

“Easy” is one of the most powerful forces at play in human behavior. Making things easy for people doesn’t have to be a monumental undertaking. Healthcare leaders can start small by identifying where patients and staff are duplicating efforts for no benefit and eliminating those redundancies. Delivering ease and simplicity will improve health outcomes and the bottom line.

Readers Write: The EHR is (Still) Dead, But I’m Optimistic

December 20, 2021 Readers Write 2 Comments

The EHR is (Still) Dead, But I’m Optimistic
By Rob Dreussi

Rob Druessi is chief information officer of HCTec of Brentwood, TN.

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In May, HCTec CEO Bill Grana published a company article on the evolution of the EHR entitled, “The EHR Is Dead. Long Live the EHR.” In August, digital health strategy consultant Seth Joseph published a similarly titled article, “Long Live the EHR Platform” on Forbes.com.

The key distinction in the headline encompasses his argument for the future of EHRs. Joseph’s two-part article is both comprehensive and detailed. He provides compelling analysis and research, sourced from industry experts to assert that while the government-backed investment (ARRA, HITECH ACT) into EHR adoption did, in fact, achieve the goal of wider physician and hospital adoption of EHRs based on government Meaningful Use (MU) criteria, EHRs collectively have been a disappointment and have not lived up to the hype.

For the most part, I agree with his points and appreciate his arguments, but drawing on 25 years of healthcare IT leadership as my lens, I politely disagree with a few of them.

To compete in a subsidized marketplace, vendors couldn’t just be best-of-breed for specialized focus areas. They needed robust capabilities to survive. In effect, they grew to be” a mile wide, but an inch short in the most important ways.”

In the short term, EHR vendors certainly focused on becoming certified by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to be MU-compliant. However, hospitals still had the ability to continue using the best-of-breed approach, as modular certifications allowed systems to be certified using a subset of criteria intended for their specific use. Examples of best-of-breed areas include laboratory, surgical, radiology, pharmacy, decision support, oncology, home health, and revenue cycle.

Many hospitals continue to use specialty systems for all the above. But more frequently, they are looking to decrease the overall complexity of running multiple EHRs. If anything, the MU era accelerated the move from full best-of-breed solutions to a modified hybrid approach, where hospitals use a primary EHR with select departmental solutions as necessary. Then, if and when the EHR vendor can provide a sufficient solution with functionality on par with the independent solution, the supplementary solution is often phased out.

In my experience, best-of-breed systems are difficult to manage and costly to maintain. In instances that my company has seen, many health systems agree with me. To illustrate, a Southeastern-based health system recently migrated one of its markets onto Epic from a combination of Cerner (acute side), a third-party home health system, multiple ambulatory systems, and over 50 related third-party applications. Similarly, we have supported many Epic-based organizations move from their independent departmental solution to Epic’s Beaker module this year.

EHRs went from competing on the value of their product to competing on the breadth of functions they offered. Epic achieved its dominant market share for this reason. It offered hospital CIOs a one-stop shop at a time when the CIO’s job was dependent upon helping the organization achieve Meaningful Use of EHRs, no matter how much physicians detested the actual software.

Introduced in 2009, MU can’t take credit for the complete success of EHRs. Epic, for example, was already long thriving as an EHR market leader for hospitals with 400 or more beds by then. Kaiser Permanente became an Epic client in 2003 as part of a $1.8 billion deal, and by 2005, their client base included the likes of Cleveland Clinic Foundation and Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. This shows that while MU may have accelerated the move to Epic for many health systems, Epic wasn’t just competing on the MU compliance to win deals. They were winning deals due to their ability to not only provide a solution that handled both the inpatient and outpatient areas, but one that was developed 100% in-house, without the need for mergers or acquisitions.

Normally, CIOs selecting Epic were not dealing with physicians who detested the Epic EHR. Epic was even known in the marketplace for “selecting” its clients. Commonly, in my personal experience with many Epic organizations, the deciding factor was Epic’s ability to provide multiple reference sites running their full product suite, whereas competitors struggled to do the same.

“EHRs have been more than a disappointment: they have largely turned into a national nightmare…. Additionally, while EHRs may improve safety in some areas, they also introduce new risks that are systemic in nature.”

There are undoubtedly drawbacks to EHRs, and we certainly have not yet fully realized the potential of these digital systems, but to say they are a sweeping disappointment suggests that they have not offered any societal benefit. Before EHRs, providers struggled to have a clear picture of a patient’s health background, even within the same organization. A patient could go to the ER and later visit a primary care physician, who had no record of that visit or what occurred during it.

Our nation would have had a difficult time shifting to telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic without the currently deployed EHRs. With EHR systems, we can now better share critical patient data across a healthcare organization and even across other healthcare systems when required. For those populations who spend different seasons in different parts of the country, the ability for their separate health systems to “talk” and share health information is an invaluable component in their health journey. With an EHR, providers can access real-time, up-to-date patient information, regardless of where treatment was provided. This element alone is vital for patient safety and care.

“By virtually every financial and operational metric, the business prospects for EHRs have gone in one direction over the past decade: down.”

Joseph is correct that EHR vendors have seen a downturn in the number of net new EHR implementations. Recent implementations appear to be driven by mergers and acquisitions or the routine replacement life cycle when the current EHR is not meeting organizational needs, with a traditional selection process to identify a new solution. More commonly, smaller, specific modules are being introduced as opposed to the full EHR implementations. While EHR vendors have seen declining revenues post MU, which is not totally unexpected, their futures are ripe with opportunity. They will adapt to the changing environment and will take steps (or have already taken steps) to size their workforce accordingly based on the future demands for maintenance / support and new implementations.

I share Joseph’s curiosity as to the future of EHRs. For now, Meditech is seeing more traction with its Expanse solution, with HCA most recently announcing they are implementing the solution at three HCA hospitals in the New Hampshire market. Meditech will realize tremendous growth with HCA if they are able to move the system’s vast footprint of hospitals running the Meditech Magic EHR onto their Expanse solution. Meditech would also realize a significant loss of business if HCA moved away from Meditech altogether.

Epic has chosen a strategic route in developing a web-based client (Hyperdrive) to generally replace the desktop client (Hyperspace). Hyperdrive clients should experience cost savings from the reduced manpower and related technologies necessary to support a web-based client. These savings could also open the door for new adoption at smaller organizations by finally making the ongoing TCO of running Epic feasible. During the pandemic, Epic was also able to deliver their clients a solution, including the underlying technology, for patient telehealth visits representing an unexpected boost in revenue, which luckily for Epic, is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

Perhaps the next boom for major EHR providers will be international growth as opposed to domestic. Whatever the next big break is, I’m curious to see what Joseph sees in his crystal ball for the future of EHRs.

Readers Write: COVID-19 Drastically Cut Lung Cancer Trial Participation. What Can We Do to Reboot?

December 20, 2021 Readers Write No Comments

COVID-19 Drastically Cut Lung Cancer Trial Participation. What Can We Do to Reboot?
By Miruna Sasu

Miruna Sasu, PhD, MBA is chief strategy officer at COTA, Inc. of Boston, MA.

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COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on the nation’s health. In addition to hundreds of thousands of deaths directly caused by the virus, millions more patients have been unable to access crucial healthcare services due to lockdown orders, economic stress, and fear of illness.

During the early days of the pandemic, primary care visits declined by nearly 60% before rebounding later in 2020. Screenings for common cancers, including breast, colon, and cervical cancer, dropped by an average of 91%, prompting fears of a wave of advanced cancers in the coming months. 

A new study from the University of Memphis shows that the clinical trial ecosystem has not been exempt from this trend. The pandemic has prompted a 43% decline in enrollment for lung cancer trials, forcing researchers to delay, postpone, or cancel their initiatives.

Lung cancer leads to a quarter of all cancer deaths: more than colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined. Clinical trials are essential for helping to save and extend the lives of lung cancer patients.

My own life is a perfect illustration of how important clinical trials can be. After immigrating from Romania as a child, my grandfather helped to raise me in America. Soon after, he was diagnosed with advanced metastatic lung cancer and given three months to live. We did not have the resources for conventional treatment, but he enrolled in a clinical trial that offered experimental care we could afford.  

Instead of living for three months, he went into remission and got to spend another 30 years with his family. We were lucky to have access to this life-altering program. We knew that the option existed. We lived close enough to the trial site for regular visits. We were able to provide a strong network of support at home. Not every family is so fortunate.

The care access issues of COVID-19 have compounded existing challenges with clinical trial enrollment, including proximity to centralized trial locations and the ability to completely mold one’s life around the demands of constant clinical visits, treatment side effects, and emotional self-care.

We now have the opportunity to rethink how we approach these problems and restart the momentum that has been lost during COVID-19. I believe that three things could potentially be solutions to care access issues and substantially improve trial recruitment and retention for patients:

  • Increasing enrollment. We can start by ensuring that patients from all walks of life are aware that clinical trials may be an option for them. Clinical trials perennially fall short when recruiting diverse and representative populations, excluding far too many underserved individuals from medical research. By using emerging data strategies, such as leveraging multifaceted real-world data to identify new research sites serving representative populations, we can educate more providers and patients about the positive potential of clinical trials. Real-world data from electronic health records, claims, and other sources can also help us match individuals with the most appropriate trials to maximize their odds of better outcomes.
  • Maintaining patients on trials. We also need to make sure that patients have the day-to-day resources they need to stick with the program from start to finish. Non-clinical services, including transportation to appointments, childcare, meal delivery options, and other assistance to mitigate social determinants of health are critical for enabling patients to stay adherent to complex trial protocols.
  • Patient understanding of trial opportunities. Continued trial interest is important for both healthcare providers and patients. We need to work hard to ensure that everyone within the care ecosystem understands their options for clinical trials. As such, building a community of care around clinical trial participants can improve quality of life while making sure that researchers can keep their enrollment numbers where they need to be. To do this, we have to get very good at things such as being able to showcase trial options and providing educational materials to doctors and patients that are tailored for each of these audiences. We also need ask patients questions about life style and quality of life at the right times and provide a variety of easy ways to not only treat but also connect with clinicians and care teams.

Making the investment in these and other strategies could save untold lives and give lung cancer patients, like my grandfather, many more happy moments with their family and friends. 

As we work through the ongoing challenges of the pandemic and continue to design and implement innovative clinical trials, we must commit to enrolling more diverse and inclusive patient cohorts and supporting them holistically during trials so they live their lives to the fullest for as long as possible.

Readers Write: 2022 Trends: How Health Systems Plan to Meet Top Business and Clinical Objectives By Automating Patient Engagement

December 15, 2021 Readers Write No Comments

2022 Trends: How Health Systems Plan to Meet Top Business and Clinical Objectives By Automating Patient Engagement
by Vik Krishnan

Vik Krishnan, MBA is general manager of Intrado Digital Workflows of Omaha, NE.

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With hospitals and health systems continuing to face both staffing and supply shortages, many experts are hoping that 2022 will provide some relief, especially if the COVID pandemic finally enters its endemic phase. This will allow healthcare leaders, including health IT executives, to address other crucial priorities. And when it comes to next year’s objectives, enhancing the patient experience ranks at the top of the list, according to 91% of respondents in a recent Intrado survey administered to College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) members. Other financial and operational priorities included increasing visit volumes (cited by 68%) and reducing burdens on personnel (49%).

Given these priorities, it isn’t surprising that in the same survey, 51% of healthcare IT executives stated they planned to invest in systems that make it easy to communicate with patients via SMS for different workflows including scheduling, reminders, recalls, referrals, and other patient engagement needs. This can be accomplished using automated, digital technology. The most advanced engagement platforms have deep EHR integration, include chat bot technology, and enable two-way SMS communications in real time between health systems and patients. Chat bot technology, in particular, delivers human-like interaction to patients seeking answers to commonly asked questions without requiring the direct engagement of a staff member. Two-way communication via text message allows patients to schedule, confirm, and/or reschedule appointments when it is most convenient for them.

The majority of respondents (83%) also report that they already use their patient engagement solution to automate basic appointment reminders. However, less than one-third (30%) offer two-way, SMS-based self-scheduling to their patients. This is significant for two reasons. First, SMS is the patient-preferred communications channel, providing a simple, convenient means of engaging with patients. In addition, offering self-scheduling via SMS can positively affect each of the health system leaders’ top objectives, including improving the patient experience and bolstering revenue through increased visit volumes, fewer no-shows, and reducing the burden on call center staff. Perhaps that’s why 47% said they plan to automate appointment self-scheduling or rescheduling directly from SMS messages in the future.

Given the latest advancements in automated patient engagement technology, health systems need to raise their expectations of these platforms and how they can meet their goals. Healthcare organizations will realize gains by leveraging their patient engagement solution for more than appointment scheduling and reminders. This includes a wide variety of tasks that address gaps in care and boost revenue. For instance, just 19% of surveyed executives currently use their engagement tool to manage referrals, even though this area contributes heavily to revenue leakage, impacts quality of care and consumes vast call center resources. And only 38% use digital engagement for pre-procedure patient communications, including, for example, sharing instructions on how patients should prepare for procedures like colonoscopies.

Knowing that providers and support staff devote significant amounts of time to inputting patient data and maintaining EHRs, healthcare IT executives are looking for opportunities to streamline these efforts. In fact, of the respondents who did not plan to automate patient engagement in 2022, 37% expressed concerns that doing so would place even more of a burden on the end user and IT resources. However, certain digital engagement platforms deeply integrate with the EHR the health system already uses. This eliminates the need for manual input by writing patient engagement activities from and directly back into the EHR.

Eighty-seven percent of those surveyed stated that the level of EHR integration offered is among the three key factors they consider when evaluating a potential IT investment. This answer ranked higher than other important considerations like cost, ROI and ease of deployment. Plus, 85% of responding executives said they want the EHR to serve as the “single source of truth” for all patient data, including the documentation of patient engagement activities, responses, and reporting.

Hospitals and health systems have invested heavily in patient portals in response to government mandates requiring transparent access and sharing of healthcare data with patients. This explains why 60% of surveyed healthcare IT professionals reported their institution relies on a portal for all patient engagement needs. And while patient portals do contain valuable information for patients, low portal adoption rates make them a poor choice as a sole communication method. A better solution is complementing the portal with a robust, EHR-integrated patient engagement platform that delivers information and education when and where it is most convenient for the patient—through SMS, email, or phone.

Here’s a practical example that demonstrates the value of having a complementary engagement solution. During the height of the pandemic, in early 2021, demand for the COVID-19 vaccine was so high that the patient portal of one New York-based health system crashed due to the number of patients logging on at the same time to schedule a vaccine appointment. Since the health system also deployed an automated patient engagement tool using two-way SMS outreach, it was still able to bridge the gap and continue to offer patients the ability to schedule and reschedule their COVID-19 vaccines.

This two-pronged approach gives healthcare providers and patients ultimate flexibility. Patients can use the portal for activities like reviewing their health records or downloading test results, while healthcare organizations can deploy automated patient engagement technology to reach patients in real time and in the patient’s preferred communication channel.

The use of automated, digital engagement not only improves the patient experience, it also promotes better health outcomes. Patients are far more likely to engage, schedule an appointment, and adhere to the recommended care plan when they can self-schedule their appointment and easily text a question to providers. SMS patient engagement featuring live chat, in particular, puts an end to cumbersome phone trees and waiting on hold, creating efficiencies for staff, too.

Based on these findings, healthcare IT executives clearly understand the advantages of automating patient engagement and plan to invest in these solutions in the future. Whether it is accomplished via a new solution or applying new workflows to an existing platform, automation of many patient communication tasks can benefit health systems and patients alike.

Readers Write: Improvements in Content Quality, Regulations Highlight 2021 Interoperability Trends

December 6, 2021 Readers Write 1 Comment

Improvements in Content Quality, Regulations Highlight 2021 Interoperability Trends
By Jay Nakashima

Jay Nakashima, MBA is executive director of EHealth Exchange of Vienna, VA.

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Once again, the COVID-19 pandemic grabbed many health IT headlines in 2021. But interoperability was a major topic in 2021 as it truly turned a corner during the last 12 months. More providers are connecting into data sharing networks, and this is good for everyone. This momentum should continue in 2022, but definite challenges will arise.

As someone who heads the oldest and largest nationwide health information network in the United States, I continually monitor trends in healthcare technology. While the past 12 months have been packed with major developments, the following are what I deem are the most significant interoperability trends in 2021.

Public health emphasis. The COVID-19 pandemic spotlights the digital disconnect between healthcare systems and public health agencies. Much work remains in this area, but now it is recognized as a major issue and helped to drive the conversation around health IT this year. The EHealth Exchange partnered with the Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL) to enable automated generation and transmission of case reports from electronic health records (EHR) to the necessary public health agencies, increasing accuracy while reducing reporting burdens of providers. This electronic case reporting (eCR) service is available to EHealth Exchange network participants, as well as those outside the network but connected via Carequality. The EHealth Exchange – APHL connections can be used for any reportable disease or condition, not just COVID-19.

Regulations. The information blocking rule clearly expanded access to patient data requested for treatment purposes. Anticipation of the final rule alone propelled EHealth Exchange’s transaction volume to 12 billion transactions annually. The industry continues to anticipate and plan for the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology’s (ONC’s) new Trusted Exchange Framework and Common Agreement (TEFCA) exchange paradigm.

Content quality. The industry as a whole saw great improvements in content quality in 2021. For example, 98% of EHealth Exchange participants were able to successfully pass rigorous content quality testing. Because of the vast number of participants and their influences in healthcare, there is now a new, universal floor of interoperability inside and outside the network. This means that the network isn’t just moving data; it is moving standards-based, computable data, which is human readable and machine consumable, the gold standard for interoperability.

Adoption of new technology such as FHIR. While exchanging Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) at scale still requires final new standards, particularly related to security, the industry as a whole worked to implement FHIR in production after successful proof of concept initiatives. In partnership with public health, we expect to see finally see the promise of FHIR in broad, real-world connectivity in 2022.

Of course, these are not the only trends that drove the healthcare IT sector in 2021. We saw a major emphasis on privacy, cybersecurity, controlling healthcare costs, and efforts to address disparities. Look for these and other trends to continue into the new year as the sector continues to evolve and address new challenges that will surely appear.

Readers Write: Filling the Healthcare Data Glass: The Glass Doesn’t Need to Stay Half Empty

November 29, 2021 Readers Write 1 Comment

Filling the Healthcare Data Glass: The Glass Doesn’t Need to Stay Half Empty
By Alex MacLeod

Alex MacLeod is director of healthcare commercial initiatives for InterSystems of Cambridge, MA.

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In recent years, there has been a lot of talk about the unfulfilled promises of artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare and concerns about how to effectively incorporate it into practice and realize immediate value. There is a real “glass half empty” mentality at play due to false starts and over-ambitious expectations for AI adoption and commercialization. But that doesn’t need to, and shouldn’t, be the case.

Google’s hospital partnership to collaborate on algorithm development using patient records for AI development is a strong sign of healthcare AI’s imminent proliferation. Gone is the barrier of highly fragmented patient data. This is a significant market shift, and other giants in tech and healthcare will follow Google’s lead. The question now is, what can and should the healthcare IT industry do to prepare? We will answer that by looking at three core areas – data, patterns, and areas of caution.

AI in healthcare has had positive growth in recent years, but the meaningful application of AI products (FDA-approved AI products) and the widespread application of data to the decision-making process has lagged, according to a recent study published in the Medical Futurist Institute. There have been major recent advances in sensor technology, allowing for a broad range of devices that help inform patients about their health or fitness and warn about risks. The sensors generate raw data, but the interpretation of it is based on AI analysis, which hasn’t developed at the same rapid pace.

IT departments, payers, providers, and patients are overwhelmed with the high volume of data generated on a daily basis and need to better articulate their end goal for its use. To do so, they need to pay close attention to their current processes and determine what can be done differently and what needs to change in order to be able to analyze data and apply it to future decisions.

The biggest questions those in healthcare face in regard to health information are:

  • What do we do with all this data?
  • What is most important to analyze?
  • How can it be made actionable? (i.e. can it be used to become compliant with regulations?)

To answer those questions, we need to start by understanding what the data represents and asking a few more questions. Is the data set composed of lab results, physician-collected, or patient-submitted data? Why was it generated and collected in the first place?

The answers are typically more straightforward in other industries than healthcare. That’s why it is important to take a close look at the data and identify patterns and similarities. Analysis in healthcare AI is different from other consumer-facing algorithms.

Healthcare AI has less algorithm-friendly base data compared to social media or online shopping, for example. Healthcare algorithms work with complicated inputs of clinical notes, medical imaging, and sensor readings. Outcomes are relatively well defined in non-healthcare AI settings, most commonly in terms of attention or purchase. In healthcare, outcomes have time and severity dimensions on top of opportunity for interference with other effects, not all of which can be stratified through raw statistics.

Current effective applications of AI in healthcare include the use of ML tools in triage practices and administration. For example, what makes it effective in triage is how AI nuances the health system’s basic risk scoring systems as a way to identify patients who need immediate attention or who require higher acuity resources and pathways.

That said, patients must consent to their data to be applied to healthcare AI algorithms, and to provide value, the data must be made actionable. It must be clean, comprehensive, and normalized data where there are no duplicate records, formatting errors, incorrect information, or mismatched terminology. This gives those analyzing the data complete confidence in how and why it was curated.

Collecting data always introduces the risk of the information being “repurposed,” a possibility spotlighted when fitness tracking app Strava released a dataset of 3 trillion distinct GPS readings that inadvertently exposed US military bases in Afghanistan. Modern bots, and to some extent even legitimate social media marketing tools, are making efficient use of analytics and AI to game the platform’s algorithms in order to attract more views, clicks, and likes. But, when such technology ends up in the wrong hands, the focus may be on spreading misinformation rather than the intended use.

As with most technology, discretion is key. Collect and analyze only the minimum necessary. Don’t invite scrutiny over private data or enable access to it. Remain diligent in your data practices.

It’s understandable why people see the glass as half empty, but we have reached an inflection point in healthcare AI, a point at which we can add water to the glass.

To add to the glass and fully benefit from the anticipated results, we should embrace incoming regulation and think hard about self-regulation measures. Healthcare IT practitioners should closely monitor how laws and oversight will adapt in real-time, similar to as we have seen with the FDA Digital Health Innovation Action Plan. As Google’s big step forward in healthcare AI development signals a new level of digitization of health, we can expect changing attitudes towards healthcare AI, including an uptick in trustworthiness and increasing differentiation from other categories of consumer AI.

AI in healthcare has strong potential if we harness it correctly. In the right scenarios, AI augments the work of healthcare providers and doesn’t replace them as long as we maintain a little bit of human intelligence to complement the artificial.

Readers Write: Contactless Tech Surge Supports Healthcare’s Quadruple Aim

November 29, 2021 Readers Write No Comments

Contactless Tech Surge Supports Healthcare’s Quadruple Aim
By John Sola

John Sola is senior product manager for Ascom Americas of Morrisville, NC.

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In a matter of months, the COVID-19 pandemic precipitated digital transformation across a wide swath of industries, driven by contactless operations that improve productivity and mitigate the need for physical interaction. Whether it’s curbside pickup, a digital guitar lesson, or delivery of lunch to your front porch with automatic digital payment on receipt, contactless service has become commonplace across so many areas of our lives. It has led to new business models that are yielding innovative and efficient products and services.

We have witnessed its significant impact on healthcare as well. Telehealth usage, for instance, has surged since the pandemic began, allowing providers to deliver safe and timely access to healthcare services.  According to a recent McKinsey & Company Telehealth report, “new analysis indicates telehealth use has increased 38X from the pre-COVID-19 baseline.”

Technology has been a key driver for health systems in attaining performance goals since the Triple Aim concept – patient experience, lower costs, better outcomes – was first developed by IHE in 2007. It was later expanded by many organizations to include a fourth (“Quadruple”) aim incorporating the importance of improving the work life of clinicians and staff.

To support the Quadruple Aim, healthcare’s utilization of technology is evolving rapidly.  Recent advances such as IoT, big data, AI, and wearables enable providers to transition treatment from passive and reactive to predictive and proactive.  The rapid pace of digitalization was aptly highlighted by Mayo Clinic’s Bart Demaershalk, MD: “The COVID-19 pandemic has essentially accelerated US digital health by about 10 years.” Contactless healthcare is positioned to support this shift in care delivery from the emergency room and hospital bed to the patient’s home, linking data-rich health observations to clinical knowledge and decision marketing.

One such example is ASL Napoli 1 Centro, a group of hospitals in Napoli, Italy. A remote monitoring solution for at-home COVID patients offers a level of service halfway between hospital care and the home. A package of wearable medical devices provides monitoring for oxygen saturation, heart rate, and body temperature, along with non-invasive spot-check blood pressure measurements. The service was managed by hospital general practitioners using medical device surveillance and clinical decision support system (CDSS) software. Of the 500+ patients monitored during a certain period, less than 10% required hospitalization. Based on the program’s effectiveness, the hospital intends to continue offering the contactless solution after the COVID emergency for managing patients with chronic conditions.   

As ASL Napoli 1 Centro shows us, the movement to prediction and prevention can be accomplished quickly and efficiently when it’s coupled with contactless technologies, such as wearable medical devices. Acquired vital signs can be analyzed in real time with CDSS-based early-warning scoring and other clinical measures to detect or predict patient deterioration. The data must be presented in a meaningful, understandable way if it is to be useful for decision-making and timely clinical intervention. Such solutions fit squarely in the objectives of the Quadruple Aim. It provides patients peace of mind that their condition is being watched closely.  It helps manage more patients with fewer staff. It improves outcomes by acting sooner.  It supports overburdened nurses by streamlining the process of data collection and validation.

As the way we approach healthcare continues to change, contactless technologies can help address existing and future care challenges, such as pandemics, the wave of aging Baby Boomers, and a looming shortage of nurses. Hastened by COVID, contactless care is here to stay, offering new and transformative opportunities for providers worldwide.

Readers Write: Medical Devices are Evolving, and How They are Managed Needs to Evolve, Too

November 22, 2021 Readers Write No Comments

Medical Devices are Evolving, and How They are Managed Needs to Evolve, Too
By David Klumpe

David Klumpe, PharmD is president of clinical asset management of TriMedx of Indianapolis, IN.

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Technological advancements in healthcare come at a rapid pace. While there are benefits to this, technological evolution can also bring challenges for healthcare systems that strive to run efficiently while maintaining quality care.

The management of medical devices is one such challenge. As devices become more complicated and increasingly get connected to the internet, how they are best managed becomes more complex. Optimum-use decisions are guided by lifecycle factors and cybersecurity risks, not the age of a device on a spreadsheet list or other simple factors.

To best meet the future of technology and retire inefficient practices, health systems can employ a clinical asset management solution to optimize their device fleets, increase staff productivity, and improve patient care.

Let’s talk about inventory accuracy and why detailed visibility into your fleet is the core element to driving efficiencies at scale.

The fundamental task of inventory visibility is knowing exactly what medical devices you have and where they are located. Healthcare staff lose valuable time and become frustrated searching for a device. Are the insulin pumps in this storage closet on this floor? Or on another floor? While caregivers search, patient care suffers.

But inventory visibility is at the heart of capital expenditure decisions, maintenance choices, and cybersecurity needs. A clinical asset management solution can provide real-time visibility and deep insights into the status of a healthcare system’s fleet. Software algorithms can help optimize asset life and disposal timing. By analyzing age, repair history, parts availability, amount of inventory, usage patterns, FDA recalls, cybersecurity risks, and other factors, clinical asset management solutions can establish the true useful life of a medical device and guide decisions on whether it should be replaced.

Perhaps instead of being replaced the device can be upgraded, typically a less-expensive choice than replacement. Clinical asset management teams can weigh factors such as device age, condition, and options for software and hardware upgrades to recommend options.

Visibility also gives insight into which devices should be disposed. Unused equipment still requires maintenance. A better option may lie in selling the equipment to other health providers.

Best use also entails making sure devices are available at the right place and at the right time, at the unit, hospital, and health system level. Meeting demand with existing assets maximizes revenue opportunities while avoiding additional capital expenditures such as medical equipment rental expenses.

Few recent technological advances present as much risk as the internet and the internet of things. The slew of rising cyberattacks with more profound effects is drawing the attention of consumers, businesses, and governments alike.

The threat to medical devices is intensifying as well. At first, the risk of connected medical devices was a vulnerable gateway into a health system where hackers could steal or hold ransom financial, patient, and other sensitive records. In recent years, the threat escalated to target medical devices themselves and render them inoperable. Worse now is the potential for far more maliciousness. Earlier this year, McAfee researchers discovered vulnerabilities in two types of infusion pumps that might allow hackers to deliver double doses of medicine to unsuspecting patients.

Cybersecurity provided by clinical asset management solutions can monitor, detect, prevent, and respond to cyberthreats in real-time. But what can be particularly valuable is a cybersecurity assessment for each device. Manufacturers at some point often no longer support a device, so a patch may be unavailable. What a clinical asset management team needs to know is the seriousness of the vulnerability. The cybersecurity assessment can evaluate the medical device profile, device behavior, and potential impact to patient safety and drive recommendations on whether to replace, upgrade, or dispose of the device to best prevent deadly cybersecurity downfalls.

A key component of the real-time status assessment of every medical device in a fleet is avoiding downtime. When equipment is down, hospital efficiencies suffer. When equipment is down, caregivers become frustrated because doing their job becomes more complicated and time-consuming. When equipment is down, patients grow more irritable with the delays, and quality of service suffers.

A modern clinical asset management solution uses powerful, real-time analytics to optimize device usage and prevent downtime. Spreadsheets or databases provide only a list, widening the risk that device upkeep falls through the cracks. A clinical asset management solution, on the other hand, provides a lifecycle and cybersecurity assessment of every device in the system to maximize device efficiencies in a fleet today and tomorrow.

Readers Write: How to Fill Staffing Gaps Without Hiring

November 22, 2021 Readers Write No Comments

How to Fill Staffing Gaps Without Hiring
By Hadi Chaudhry

Hadi Chaudhry is president and CEO of CareCloud of Somerset, NJ.

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According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 500,000 workers have left the field since the start of the pandemic. Furthermore, burnout continues to plague the workforce. Clinicians and support staff are suffering, but administrative teams are feeling the stress as well. Jobs that were lost when revenues fell off a cliff are now hard to refill. Many furloughed workers have decided to explore other industries or leave the workforce entirely, either to stay home with their families or to avoid vaccine mandates.

As a result, back-office workers have become stretched thin. Claims processing, especially due to new challenges like COVID lab tests, number in the millions of extra claims every week.

New alternatives are helping to ease the two-sided problem of unfilled positions and overworked staffers. Robotic process automation (RPA) is one tool for offloading mundane and repetitive tasks that plague support and administrative workers. Robotic processes can handle everything from claims denials and payment processing to document management. On the clinical side, RPA can automate wellness checks, medical uploads, and CPT code verifications.

RPA can be immensely productive for any healthcare organization. The microbots in RPA solutions are capable of increasing revenue by working through backlogs of thousands of transactions or claims in a single day. Underpayments, appeals, and filing limits are all candidates for RPA automation.

Another solution to staffing gaps is temporary or long-term workforce extension services. These outsourced services take routine, repetitive tasks off the backs of existing workers, saving practices up to 80% in resource costs.

Many payers and revenue cycle companies already depend on workforce extension services, and their use in provider organizations is accelerating. Many workforce extension providers offer talented, highly trained staff that are fully trained in scores of EHR, billing, and practice management systems. Solutions can be very specific and quickly mobilized, with specialists available for a hospital’s specific host applications.

Automation and on-demand workforces perform best when organizations work collaboratively with consultants and service providers. When considering RPA, medical groups should work alongside service providers to address the most repetitive tasks, such as  checking claims status, pre-authorizations, and insurance discoveries.

Organizations can use RPA for the most mundane tasks, leaving on-demand staff to handle more complex duties where a human touch is needed. Oftentimes the 80/20 rule applies — automation can resolve 80% of all routine back-office tasks, while the remaining 20% may require involvement of skilled revenue professionals.

It’s critical that solutions are implemented earlier rather than later. Hoping that situations will resolve themselves is misguided. Both automated platforms and workforce extensions typically take two to four weeks to implement, but the timeline for workforce extension will depend on the size of the incoming team. The longer an organization waits, the more difficult it is to work through backlogs and prioritize results.

On-demand and automated solutions can help with many challenges healthcare employers face, from adequately supporting remote workers to reducing stress and enabling employees to concentrate on patient engaging and revenue-increasing tasks. Small practices, large medical clinics, hospitals, and health systems alike are aware that we’re in a challenging hiring environment. Filling gaps with automation and supplemental staffing is the best way for weary workers, as well as their employers, to succeed.

Readers Write: How Hospitals and Healthcare Systems Can Curb Violence Against Staff

November 22, 2021 Readers Write No Comments

How Hospitals and Healthcare Systems Can Curb Violence Against Staff
By Terri Mock

Terri Mock, MS, MBA is chief strategy and marketing officer of Rave Mobile Safety of Framingham, MA.

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Hospitals and healthcare facilities are seeing an uptick in violence, no doubt attributable in part to frustration caused by the pandemic. Healthcare workers, lauded as frontline heroes 18 months ago, are now at higher risk of violent incidents. For instance, the National Nurses United found that 31% of hospital nurses have faced a small or significant increase in workplace violence, up from 22% in March 2021.

To prevent harm and abuse in the workplace, hospital and healthcare leaders must re-evaluate emergency response plans, adopt better mass communication tools, and support staff more effectively in dealing with abusive or potentially violent patients and aggressive visitors. These interventions are essential if we aim to keep healthcare professionals, especially nurses, from leaving the field.

On the emergency response front, leaders must ensure their teams are prepared and aware of the protocols that exist for dealing with violence in the building. If specific emergency response plans don’t exist for addressing violence, those should be created as soon as possible. If they exist within a bigger collection of emergency procedures and protocols, it’s worth considering when they were last updated and how easy it is for workers to access that information in the midst of a chaotic situation.

Emergency plans should be readily available and tailored to individual roles across the hospital or healthcare network. For larger organizations, it often makes sense to put emergency plans in a central digital repository that staff can access through mobile apps and online portals. That way, workers don’t have to chase down physical documents or navigate an unwieldy file system. They can pull up what they need, look up phone numbers, and take action according to their unique role.

Regarding communication tools, it’s time to go mobile and modern. Hospitals and healthcare systems today need to notify staff of critical incidents wherever they are located. Modern communication platforms enable staff, patients, and even visitors to collaborate in real time using two-way mass notification systems across multiple channels, including SMS, email and voice calls, anonymous reporting, push notifications, audience segmentation, and more.

These platforms also provide mobile apps for personal safety and secure communications. In an emergency, nurses or other healthcare professionals could easily alert security for assistance, give helpful details, and provide ongoing updates, if needed.

Finally, leaders must empower healthcare workers to improve their personal safety. We’re already suffering through a country-wide nursing shortage and burnout. By 2030, we may be short over one million RNs, according to a study conducted by Good Call.

Administrators have to educate staff on the importance of reporting violent incidents and follow through in taking those reports seriously. To carry out their responsibility for duty of care, healthcare organizations need the ability to locate and check on the wellbeing of their employees. Technology can be helpful here to solicit a healthcare worker’s real-time location and status when they may need help.

The ability to locate and contact a mobile, remote, and traveling healthcare workforce can be accomplished using a geo-polling feature available in a mass notification system. Healthcare organizations can require information from their workers with simple poll questions via SMS, email, and voice calls. The responses are collected to ensure every individual’s status and location is made known.

Should a nurse answer that they are in danger or need assistance, security personnel can identify who they are and where they are located, then trigger two-way communications to coordinate a response and facilitate their safety. A follow-up geo-poll can be sent to individuals who did not respond or to obtain further information to direct the appropriate response to their needs. With geo-polling, every healthcare worker’s status and location are known so you can protect and keep them safe.

Healthcare has always been a high-risk industry, and events over the past 18 months have exacerbated many of the challenges healthcare workers face. By updating emergency response plans, adopting better communication technology and giving staff more ways to report violence, leaders can protect the personal safety, decrease risk, and improve conditions for those on the front line.

Readers Write: Protect Hospital Workers Now for a Safer and Brighter Future of Caring

November 17, 2021 Readers Write No Comments

Protect Hospital Workers Now for a Safer and Brighter Future of Caring
By Brent Lang

Brent Lang, MBA is chairman and CEO of Vocera of San Jose, CA.

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Nurses, doctors, and other healthcare team members deserve working environments that protect their physical, emotional, and psychological well-being. They also deserve equitable support and access to resources and tools to care for themselves and the patients they serve. At the heart of safety is a commitment from hospital leaders to build cultures that empower employees with essential equipment, technologies, and protocols that protect their well-being and enable them to work at the highest level of their skills.

After nearly two years, COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc on exhausted nurses, doctors, and others frontline workers. The pandemic, causing needless death and elevated stress levels, has burned out many of our caregivers. Some are retiring early, some are changing professions, and others are leaving the workforce entirely. The cognitive burden that healthcare workers are carrying, and have been carrying even before the pandemic, is extremely heavy. The emotional toll is unimaginable.

We must find ways to protect and support every care team member or we risk losing more of them too soon. The future of our healthcare system depends on what we do now.

To start, we must identify the root causes of staff shortages. Let’s call out what is harming the physical, emotional, and psychological well-being of healthcare workers. COVID-19, cognitive overload, and burnout are not the only things threatening their well-being.

Workplace violence, racial disparities, and bias are also contributing to the trauma healthcare workers must endure. While these threats existed well before the pandemic, the last 24 months have put a spotlight on the urgent need to protect the safety of our nation’s healthcare workforce who have risked so much to protect us.

Several health system CEOs from across the country have signed The Heart of Safety Declaration of Principles to redefine safety in healthcare and drive action for meaningful change. The three pillars of the Declaration highlighted below are helping galvanize support by other healthcare leaders, technology companies, policy makers, and more.

  1. Safeguard psychological and emotional safety. We must eliminate stigmas associated with seeking mental health support and advance a culture of open communication, so people feel safe to speak up and are empowered as equal and valued members of the care team. The Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act is an excellent start.
  2. Promote health justice by declaring equity and anti-racism core components of safety. Healthcare team members deserve to work in environments free from bias and discrimination. A recent UCLA study showed the proportion of Black physicians in the U.S. has increased by only four percentage points over the last 120 years. Focused policies and practices are needed to advance diversity, inclusion, and belonging in healthcare environments, which in turn enables more equitable care delivery.
  3. Ensure physical safety. Healthcare workers are five times more likely to suffer a workplace violence injury than staff in other industries. Zero-harm programs must be implemented to eliminate workplace violence, both physical and verbal.

Policies, protocols, and training staff how to handle a violent situation are important, but they are not enough. Hospitals and health systems need to give nurses, doctors, and other team members the ability to easily and quickly call for help when a situation escalates.

Many hospitals have equipped employees with wearable communication devices that enable emergency communication, such as a dedicated panic button, and understand simple voice commands while wearing the device under personal protective equipment (PPE).

Intelligent communication technology can also help safeguard team members from mental and emotional distress. All day long, clinicians are overloaded with complex processes, competing priorities, and interruptions by calls, texts, and alert and alarm notifications from nurse call systems, patient monitors, ventilators, and more. These communications are often not actionable, causing clinicians to feel lost and overwhelmed, spending valuable time looking for information or a colleague to help.

A unified communication and collaboration solution can reduce distractions, noise, and stress, which have increased during the pandemic. It can eliminate loud overhead paging and help organize and prioritize notifications so they only go with contextual information to the person or team who needs them and can act. Managing alerts and alarms creates a quieter healing environment, while helping reduce the cognitive burden on the healer.

There are many ways to help protect and connect team members. Together, with more collaboration and a renewed commitment to safety, we can accelerate the adoption of these solutions to safeguard our nation’s healthcare workers for a brighter future of caring.

Readers Write: Digital Healthcare Needs To Evolve, and the Cloud Is the Catalyst

November 17, 2021 Readers Write No Comments

Digital Healthcare Needs To Evolve, and the Cloud Is the Catalyst
By Kavita Khandhadia

Kavita Khandhadia is Amazon Web Services program manager for Infostretch of Santa Clara, CA.

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The continued impact of the connected society means there is an increased need for decision makers to understand not only why digitalization matters, but where it can most benefit their companies. Digital evolution and maturity are key differentiators in most industry sectors, many of which are adapting to the demands of their customers and integrating the technology required.

This ongoing focus on a required digital transformation is hardly breaking news, but the decision to become more cloud-centric has particular significance for the healthcare and life sciences (HCLS) industry.

For organizations that are looking to move the digital journey forward, it’s a case of when and not if. In many cases, business optimization strategies have become increasingly cloud-based, with a consensus among analysts and researchers that HCLS companies that integrate cloud platforms and services into their existing workflows will be best placed to scale, innovate, and launch.

The events of the last 18 months shone a spotlight on where digital healthcare is and where must improve. Over the last decade, the digitalization of legacy processes within the healthcare industry has moved at a steady pace, albeit that patient wellness is more likely to reflect physical as opposed to virtual insights.

The need for effective digital solutions becomes more apparent when you consider that the adoption of recent technologies within the sector as whole can often be labeled as a work-in-progress. HCLS companies, for example, have been both quick to accept the need for change and hampered by what needs to be done.

A research note by Gartner – Innovation Insight for Digital Health Platform (DHP) – applauded the “heroic efforts” that healthcare companies and providers had made to adopt innovative technologies, including virtual care and improvements to monolithic legacy systems such as electronic health records (EHR). The caveat was that the fundamental shift required was some way in the future.

However, the analyst noted that digital expectations of patients would lead to 75% of health providers reducing reliance on “EHR-native applications to deliver better experiences and outcomes, and improve efficiencies.”

That’s great news for digital healthcare, but it’s worth remembering that the technologies required to build a DHP are already part of existing wellness strategies. For example, companies that have integrated cloud solutions have access to data and predictive analytics while digital twins, artificial intelligence, and machine learning are having an impact on clinical and operational decisions.

The question that needs to be asked is whether the increased awareness of cloud-centric healthcare offerings will be the catalyst for the next stage of digital healthcare.

The simple answer is that access to platforms such as AWS Cloud is both changing the conversation over what modern wellness can be and how patient-centric cloud solutions are the future of healthcare itself.

A powerful argument for cloud migration is understanding that a culture of healthcare innovation already exists. Purpose-built HCLS offerings are part of the AWS for Health suite of solutions, for instance.

However, the concerns that have always been part of any cloud migration are often cited as reasons to maintain the status quo.

Healthcare remains not only a very traditional industry but also one that is subject to a plethora of regulatory requirements. And while the need for digital transformation may not seem as pronounced as it would be in, say, retail, the challenges of cloud migration can literally be the difference between life and death.

In many cases, the concerns are the usual suspects – security and governance, cost and time, workloads, solution availability, and cloud maturity.

When you invest in a cloud strategy, you are giving up a certain amount of control. Cloud computing is the on-demand delivery of compute power, database, storage, applications, and other IT services through a cloud services platform.

For instance, AWS is responsible for the security of the cloud (the protection of the infrastructure itself) while the customer provides security in the cloud (platform, applications, identity and access management). Known as the Shared Responsibility Model, this simple arrangement can be a daunting prospect for healthcare companies who have relied on their legacy infrastructure and working processes to maintain compliance and regional regulatory requirements.

Cost and time are also considered to be one of the main reasons for being hesitant about cloud migration. Companies may feel that the expense and potential downtime of cloud migration may not be worth it, despite all evidence pointing to the savings that can be achieved by moving to a cloud-based solution – migration can mean that a company focuses on products and innovations as opposed to maintaining an entire infrastructure and related applications.

And we must not overlook the importance of defined workloads. HCLS relies on data management and regulatory compliance, while the nature of the services companies provide requires low latency and processing requirements on a local level. That provides an additional challenge, even more so when these digital workloads must respond as quickly as possible to a patient or provider requirement.

However, the HCLS sectors are well placed to take advantage of cloud migration. Companies and providers are increasingly data-driven and already looking to digitally transform – the global healthcare market will be worth $11.9 trillion by the end of 2022, a recent industry report said – so it follows that patient wellness will be subject to the digital experiences that are part of the connected society.

Digital healthcare’s evolution has been years in the making. Providers and patients have become more digitally aware in recent years, because the tools required to make health-related decisions are now available.

What matters is how HCLS both integrates the solutions that exist and invests in ones that can make a difference to the physical and virtual services provided.

COVID-19 was not the catalyst for digital transformation that people wanted, but the industry became focused on how digital healthcare could move forward. Cloud migration is one part of the puzzle, the companies that understand this will be able to deliver the right patient and wellness outcomes.

Readers Write: Creating a More Equitable Health System

November 4, 2021 Readers Write No Comments

Creating a More Equitable Health System
By Wylecia Wiggs Harris, PhD

Wylecia Wiggs Harris, PhD is CEO of AHIMA of Chicago, IL.

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As a Black woman, I have been aware of the negative impact of health inequities my entire life, long before becoming the leader of the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA). In the past year and a half, the pandemic has put a spotlight on the inequities of our healthcare system.

AHIMA and our members stand in a unique position to improve health equity. Health information professionals possess the data skills and expertise to make a positive impact, and we often have a bird’s-eye view of our respective healthcare organizations, allowing us to see the big picture and the ripple effects of any decision.

There are tangible actions we can take to improve health equity. It’s vital that we continue to collect patient demographic and social determinants of health (SDOH) data. We must encourage health systems to prioritize the collection of accurate and complete patient demographic and SDOH data. This data will shed light on the socioeconomic factors that impact the health of both individuals and larger populations. Health information professionals treat this data with the respect it deserves.

I’m proud that AHIMA’s advocacy team encourages policies that improve access to care. We believe it’s important for policymakers to guarantee the right for all people to have access to affordable, high-quality health coverage. We must continue to advocate for policies that help our country reach this important milestone.

We’re fortunate that improvements in technology are making it more efficient to address health disparities. Health information professionals promote the use of technology to analyze and improve quality of care and patient outcomes. We encourage the development, piloting, and testing of machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies that identify and address biases in health data; this can help avoid exacerbating existing health disparities and inequities. We are excited and optimistic about how technology can improve health equities in the years to come.

None of this can be done without a capable team of professionals. Investing in and training a diverse, culturally competent workforce is vital to foster an inclusive approach to addressing health disparities and inequities. It’s critical that patients’ demographic data and SDOH data is managed in ways that are culturally sensitive and having a properly trained workforce is critical.

These teams are needed so that we can continue to support efforts to overcome historical mistrust in healthcare institutions. Many communities of color have an understandable mistrust of healthcare institutions, and to counter this we must identify and dismantle policies that support structural racism and discrimination. At a local level, we must also foster positive patient-provider relationships and engage community leaders in decision-making processes.

I thank all the health information professionals who are helping to create a more equitable and just healthcare system and world. Together, we are making a difference.

Readers Write: The Rise in Health IT Valuations and Deal Flow

November 1, 2021 Readers Write No Comments

The Rise in Health IT Valuations and Deal Flow
By Chris McCord

Chris McCord, MBA is managing director at Healthcare Growth Partners of Houston, TX.

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In this post-pandemic era, the world is changing at a pace that is nearly impossible to process, which makes decision-making harder and seemingly riskier than ever. With limited data to inform our decisions and understanding of reality, instincts become crucial as we attempt to navigate and make sense of the world. So, let’s take a moment and unpack some of the data so we don’t have to take a leap of faith.

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To begin, you aren’t fooling yourself if you think that health IT valuations have risen since the pandemic. Using an eight-month average (the shortest period to capture statistically significant data), average health IT revenue multiples in control M&A and buyout transactions increased from 5.1x immediately prior to the pandemic to 7.4x today. The data imply that the exact same company is now worth 47% more today than before the pandemic, an extraordinary realization that highlights the paradox that is the raging bull market amidst the unrelenting pandemic.

While the 47% increase certainly feels like a head-scratcher, we see key drivers behind the madness, one being the mirror-image trend in the Nasdaq, which has risen an astounding 50% in the same time period. The surge we’ve seen in multiples in this post-pandemic period magnifies an almost uninterrupted decade-long expansion of multiples.

It’s important to note that M&A multiples are influenced by survivorship bias, which creates a bias toward the valuations of deals that close versus those that don’t. The deals that close may have characteristics, such as overall higher quality, that make them superior to those that don’t close. In other words, one can’t necessarily extrapolate value simply from multiples without taking many factors into account.

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From a health IT perspective, equally pronounced is the spike in investment value. US-based health IT private equity investment historically hovered around $10-15 billion. During the pandemic, this rate increased 141% to more than $30 billion and is just now showing signs of leveling.

US-based health IT M&A, based on deal volume, also surged during the pandemic, peaking at a rate nearly 50% higher than pre-pandemic levels and settling back to a 20% increase. Low interest rates, excess liquidity, and an indisputable digital health investment thesis are all factors driving these surges in M&A volume and investment value. Further, M&A has been fueled by the threat of the capital gains tax hikes, which has motivated sellers to race to an exit by the end of 2021.

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What goes up must come down? Barring extenuating circumstances, we may see a leveling, but most likely health IT has entered a new normal. Anecdotally, we see growth equity investment valuations typically priced higher than control M&A transactions (higher than our 7.4x revenue average), and the amount of capital being deployed at these valuations is represented by the 141% increase in private equity investment in our data.

Put another way, there is a substantial amount of capital flowing into the health IT market at historically high valuations. Certainly the investors who are putting capital to work at these high multiples do not expect valuations to drop precipitously, and one could make the argument — albeit a dangerous one because it detaches from fundamentals — that expectations perpetuate themselves.

We will continue monitoring these trends, particularly as we enter 2022 with looming tax hikes, spending plans which significantly impact healthcare, and midterm elections, not to mention the always-uncertain pandemic. Trusting both our instincts and data analysis, we can feel more confident in the direction health IT is taking.

Readers Write: Compliance Reimagined: Transforming the Value Proposition of a Traditional Cost Center

October 27, 2021 Readers Write No Comments

Compliance Reimagined: Transforming the Value Proposition of a Traditional Cost Center
By Peter Butler

Peter Butler is president and CEO of Hayes of Wellesley, MA.

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Compliance has gotten a bad rap in healthcare. Traditionally viewed as a necessary cost center, this department is too often viewed as the police force of a health system.

A lot is missing from this simplistic view of the processes that ensure hospitals and health systems aren’t hit with avoidable penalties when the auditors come knocking. Within a rapidly evolving regulatory framework that includes more than a year of fluctuating COVID and telehealth guidance (among other changes), compliance in essence becomes the safeguard to a healthy, sustainable bottom line.

In truth, there is a distinct opportunity for health systems to reimagine a department that has long operated in a silo by embracing forward-thinking revenue integrity models. These innovative strategies bring together billing and compliance teams in a collaborative way to accurately identify, track, and capture all monies owed, transforming the value proposition of compliance in terms of bottom-line impact.

With the right technology-enabled processes, these revenue integrity teams can proactively identify revenue breakdowns on both the front and back end of claim lifecycles and significantly improve revenue capture and financial health.

Compliance is a cost-constrained function inside today’s healthcare systems. While addressing it is a necessary evil, healthcare organizations often struggle to justify allocating extra dollars to optimize this area when faced with so many competing priorities. Yet the business case for investing in the infrastructures and strategies necessary for a technology-enabled revenue integrity model can be an easy one to make in terms of return on investment. Revenue integrity teams can both protect an institution from risk and improve revenue retention. Often, they can also identify dollars that might otherwise be left on the table.

For example, a recent report from the HHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) pointed to a notable rise in inpatient hospital stays where upcoding was believed to be the culprit, a significant liability for health systems on the compliance front. Revenue integrity processes that integrate systems to create strong partnerships between revenue cycle, billing, and compliance teams can improve this outlook through shared internal monitoring and auditing.

But because revenue integrity is inherently a data-hungry undertaking, manual processes of combing through claims data will not provide the timely insights needed to get ahead of issues. That’s where automation and artificial intelligence becomes a game-changer. Revenue integrity teams equipped with the right tools can conduct real-time monitoring of upcoding risks associated with billing around costly, high-severity cases, significantly minimizing compliance risks that could impact the bottom line.

Compliance professionals are well acquainted with internal auditing practices. On the revenue integrity front, holistic strategies marry the strengths of prospective (front end) and retrospective (back end) auditing. Collaboration between compliance and billing teams can draw on these techniques to make sure claims leave a health system clean from the start. When faced with denials, revenue integrity processes rapidly drill down into root causes to inform process improvement.

From a technology standpoint, here’s how it works:

  • AI-backed prospective auditing. Augmented intelligence and natural language search can help healthcare organizations get ahead of potential problems by detecting anomalies in at-risk claims in near real-time. For example, when considering upcoding risks as mentioned earlier, health systems can automatically flag high-dollar claims, and potential problematic cases can be identified and audited from the outset.
  • Technology-enabled retrospective auditing. Manual efforts to mine thousands upon thousands of claims lines across denials and identify problematic trends for process improvement are typically a non-starter for most resource-strapped compliance departments. Advanced analytics discovery tools exist that can’t comb through denials within minutes and deliver actionable insights.

It’s time for hospitals and health systems to reimagine how they view compliance in terms of impact to the bottom line. With the right revenue integrity strategy, this traditional cost center has the potential to bring real value to financial health and sustainability.

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