Doctors and nurses using technology and working together to strategize a healthcare plan

7 Stops on the Consumer-Driven Healthcare IT Journey

23 Feb 2017 by Debbie Malone

This article originally appeared in Volume 2, Issue 1 of <theScript> Quarterly digital magazine.

With a steady rise in the number of people using high-deductible health plans, patients are increasingly looking at their healthcare options with a consumer-driven mindset. This perspective touches not only their insurance choices, but their selection of physician, procedures and medications as well.

Armed with these options, patients can take to social media to praise or decry their care experiences. A host of websites also allow patients to rate their doctors or medical treatment facilities and read reviews. As savvy consumers, patients want to get the very best care for their money, and when expectations aren’t met, word can spread fast in these forums. This trend is driving a shift in the healthcare industry toward delivering value-based care models that put patients first.

In this new healthcare market, medical facilities and insurance providers that can deliver the best patient experience will come out on top. To do that, many organizations are turning to technology. But making a digital transformation doesn’t happen overnight. A healthcare IT shift begins with an examination of processes, systems and workflows in order to find technology solutions that promote efficiency, improve the quality of care and increase patient satisfaction. There are seven key elements every healthcare organization should consider along its healthcare IT modernization journey:

1. Patient experience

U.S. hospitals receive a Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) score from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services based on a survey of adult inpatients. According to Kristopher Blasi, a senior inside sales manager for healthcare at Insight, a hospital’s score can affect the number of referrals it receives and, consequently, its ability to generate revenue.

“If hospitals want to increase their HCAHPS scores, they’ve got to be as competitive as retail outlets or restaurants — but focused on the care for the patient,” he says. That makes a positive patient experience crucial to hospital operations.

In the world of consumer-driven healthcare, the patient experience is a barometer medical organizations should come back to again and again when evaluating healthcare technology solutions, but there are a couple of things to keep in mind.

Patients are top priority.

First, always take a patient-centric approach. Any platform implemented should provide evidence of its efficacy through its ability to boost patient satisfaction, increase patient engagement or improve care outcomes. Looking at the care process from a patient’s point of view will provide the best insights into where improvements are most needed. Gathering and analyzing patient feedback can help steer healthcare organizations on the right path, too.

Figure 1 shows that in a 2016 survey of U.S. health organizations, 70% of respondents said they planned to improve the patient experience over the next three years by implementing analytics to monitor patient experience performance. And 69% said they planned to develop patient portals for medical records and appointments.

This bar graph depicts the areas of infrastructure focus in the U.S. health organizations to improve patient experience over the next three years, as of 2016.
Figure 1

“The ongoing movement toward patient-centered care has been shown to significantly increase patient outcomes,” says Brian Cea, an Insight business development manager and a 20-year healthcare industry veteran. With more than a decade of focus on healthcare IT, Cea knows the value of measuring patient experiences and patient outcomes.

“Hospitals rely on positive patient feedback via HCAHPS scores not only to provide a better level of care, but to help protect Medicare reimbursement and, ultimately, drive down costs,” he says. “For value-based care models to work, tracking and measurement is essential to success.”

The patient journey should be smooth.

The second factor to consider is how to make that experience seamless, from the time the patient checks in to the final billing. Asking patients to follow a variety of processes to access health information or communicate with care providers can cause confusion and frustration.

Creating an optimal patient experience really boils down to keeping things simple. Make it as easy as possible for patients to get what they need. For example, in-room devices can be a good way for patients to control pain management, order meals, communicate with family or nursing staff, or simply change their television programming.

Digital signage can help patients and visitors navigate facilities without getting lost or being late to appointments. Registration kiosks enable patients to check in quickly upon arrival, without the need for staff assistance. And patient portals can provide users with easy access to their medical records, doctors, appointment reminders and more.

2. Point-of-care

In a 2015 Harris poll, respondents rated factors that were important for a positive experience with a healthcare provider. Figure 2 shows that among the attributes rated as very important, 43% included the length of time spent in the waiting room, 58% included time spent with the doctor, and 65% included the doctor’s ability to access their overall medical history.

This bar graph depicts the factors that are very important among U.S. patients for a positive experience with a healthcare provider, as of 2015.
Figure 2

Point-of-care solutions are designed to simplify the ways healthcare providers treat and monitor patients and log critical information. By automating routine tasks, the right point-of-care technology can reduce wait times and empower clinicians with more accurate, up-to-the minute health data. It can also alleviate the pressure many doctors feel to rush through appointments due to a volume of paperwork and administrative tasks.

Although Electronic Health Record (EHR) systems are a necessary part of the point-of-care technology equation, they’ve become a touchy subject for medical providers in recent years. That’s because EHR systems are seen as more of a burden than a benefit. Some of the most common complaints about these systems are that they require time-consuming data entry, provide an unnecessary amount of patient data, don’t connect with other systems or have interfaces that don’t meet clinician needs.

Similar to addressing the patient experience, healthcare IT decision-makers can benefit from looking at point-of-care technology through the eyes of clinicians. How can potential solutions integrate with existing workflows? Which repetitive tasks can be automated? Will a new system or EHR offer better interoperability with existing systems?

“Workflow efficiency is key to helping improve patient outcomes and lower costs,” Cea says. “By giving the physician the right tools to capture and analyze health data and make a quick decision, the patient walks away feeling more confident in their care. This alone can help reduce readmissions and drive down overall costs,” he adds.

A new EHR system that reduces the amount of data entry to only what’s necessary for quality care, and displays only relevant patient data and alerts, can save doctors time. Arming clinicians with laptops, such as HP notebooks, can make it easier for them to update EHRs as they move from patient to patient.

3. Mobility

Telehealth, or the use of technology to deliver healthcare remotely, is now a reality, thanks to mobile technology. Doctors can perform tasks from providing care directly to patients for a routine cold or flu to monitoring the heart device of a patient with congestive heart failure in a hospital — all without leaving their home or office. Remote monitoring devices also allow patients to spend more time at home instead of in a hospital, reducing medical costs.

Mobile technology provides clinicians with real-time access to patient information, enabling systemwide collaboration. And the scope of what’s possible will only continue to expand.

“If you were in a long-term care facility and you wanted to stay in communication with your family but you didn’t have a [mobile] device, or you shared a device with a family member and didn’t want to deprive them of it, these facilities can actually provide devices on-site so patients can connect with their families, with Netflix or with the hospital’s patient portal,” Blasi explains.

He notes patient portals can even house the hospital’s version of WebMD to help control what education patients receive about medical conditions or upcoming procedures. This can minimize anxieties that might be caused by misinformation on the web or even provide patients with visual aids for what a treatment might entail.

According to the 2017 State of IT report by Spiceworks, 41% of surveyed organizations worldwide have adopted Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) programs and mobile solutions, while another 14% have plans for future adoption.

These bar graphs depict the global digital health market from 2013 to 2020, by segment (in billion U.S. dollars).
Figure 3

Although implementing mobile technology can be an intimidating prospect due to the increased risk of a data breach, the benefits — to both patients and healthcare providers — far outweigh the risks. In fact, as Figure 3 shows, one study predicts mobile health will account for $55.9 billion of the digital health market by 2020, up from $24.2 billion in 2017. And by taking the right precautions, medical providers can minimize their exposure to a breach.

Like any technology implementation, you’ll want to develop a plan for adoption and establish use policies. Be sure to evaluate different mobile device technologies, how they will be used and how you’ll handle mobile device management. You’ll also need a secure wireless network to support your mobile infrastructure. Cisco wireless access points can provide optimized roaming so that clinician devices are always connected to the access point in range with the fastest Wi-Fi signal.

4. Data management

Inevitably, whether you’re mobilizing your healthcare staff or installing patient registration kiosks, leveraging technology to improve operations will require a sophisticated data storage and management solution. The solution you choose must be capable of supporting all of your current technologies while providing scalability to expand your infrastructure in the future.

When looking at data center options, healthcare organizations should first consider whether to house data on-site or in the cloud. On-site storage can be impractical for smaller facilities due to hardware, staffing and maintenance costs. Integration with existing systems is another point to consider. “The need for systems to communicate with each other is critical in making the right data available at the right time and, ultimately, in allowing caregivers to give the best care possible,” Cea says.

Rather than upgrading legacy systems, it may be more cost-effective and beneficial to replace them entirely with systems that provide more efficiency, functionality and interoperability. Data storage must also be compliant with HIPAA and other state and federal regulations. And above all, it must be secure.

Virtualization can minimize the costs associated with on-site data storage and management, and a growing number of healthcare organizations are moving to the cloud, reports Healthcare IT News. Cloud solutions not only allow healthcare organizations to store and access patient medical records on demand — they also provide the computing power necessary to leverage big data to conduct clinical research. And by connecting iPad devices to your EHR via the cloud, you enable doctors to approve patient discharges or update health data with a simple touch or swipe, boosting workforce productivity.

5. Infrastructure

Every stop on the healthcare IT journey up to this point has been about the pieces that make up the healthcare IT infrastructure. Even in small organizations, there are numerous moving parts to consider, and it can be difficult to decide exactly where to start. That’s why it’s best to have a goal in mind — something actionable to center your infrastructure optimization strategy on, such as increasing patient satisfaction.

From there, you’ll want to set some priorities. A patient survey could provide insight into what’s most important, but don’t stop there. Surveying staff and clinicians can also shed light on areas of improvement and even provide more context for why patient satisfaction is low in certain areas.

Once you have a clear overall picture of the current state of your IT infrastructure and how it’s affecting staff and patient interactions, the next step is to decide on the best IT solutions to address those issues.

Identifying and breaking down silos is an especially effective way to develop a more integrated infrastructure that optimizes resource use and supports the technology solutions on your wish list. Any systems that won’t play nice with others in your network — anything that’s creating a roadblock for patients, clinicians or back-office operations — should be eliminated, with the biggest time wasters taking top priority.

“An integrated model is key to allowing for better efficiency and lower costs. Silos threaten to prevent delivery of the care necessary to meet the demands of the current healthcare reform. By removing silos, we can improve upon workflows, patient outcomes and efficiency. Ultimately, better efficiency means lower costs overall,” Cea notes.

Virtualization, system consolidation, and hardware and software upgrades are all ways to increase speed and efficiency. With Cisco Unified Data Center, for example, you can move your storage, networking and virtualization to one platform, consolidating and simplifying your infrastructure. But as you upgrade and replace existing systems, be sure whatever you replace them with will also provide some scalability to support the technology you want to add — both now and in the future.

“Having one device that can connect 10 different software systems — that makes the doctor’s life a lot easier, the nurse’s life a lot easier, the orderly’s life a lot easier and the patient a lot safer,” Blasi adds. “If the hospital doesn’t want to assign everyone tablets because it’s too expensive, Capsa Solutions makes a workstation on wheels, or a medical cart, that also has drug drawers that are all controlled by the medical cart.” Built-in secure texting communication enables caregivers to communicate without violating patient privacy or HIPAA standards.

6. Security

The importance of having good security protocols in place can’t be overstated. Experian’s 2017 Data Breach Industry Forecast predicts healthcare will become the most targeted industry this year. Cybercriminals are using more sophisticated methods to gain access to patient records, and with the addition of new technology will come new vulnerabilities for attackers to exploit.

Healthcare IT leaders will need to be proactive in implementing the latest security solutions and best practices to ensure healthcare IT infrastructures and endpoints are protected from cyberthreats. And that means all endpoints. If you think the printer at the nurse’s station isn’t vulnerable, think again. Anything connected to your network can pose a threat, but implementing HP’s JetAdvantage Security Manager, for example, can provide a simplified way to secure and monitor your printer fleet.

“Security is such a huge factor at hospitals because there are people who will steal and swap out drugs,” Blasi says. “With technology, doctors can measure and administer medication. They can then check a box on their device, and it automatically gets entered into the EHR. Then they don’t have to worry about overmedicating or missing medication as well. It makes inventory management a lot easier, too.”

Even with the best security in place, a breach can still occur. So it’s necessary to have contingency plans for what to do if that happens. Being able to detect a breach and respond quickly can mitigate costs and damages. However, according to Healthcare IT News, the most costly mistake made by healthcare organizations is not providing staff with adequate training on IT security policies. In a 2016 SecurityScorecard report, the healthcare industry ranked 15th out of 18 industries for social engineering vulnerability, suggesting a security awareness problem among healthcare staff.1

“Healthcare organizations are being attacked in many ways, and simply making it harder to access information does not necessarily keep the bad guys out,” Cea explains. “Patient health records are extremely attractive, and not every attack is from an external source. It is imperative to get staff to understand the risks and costs of losing patient information before a plan can be put into place.”

The best security systems in the world can’t save a healthcare organization from clinicians leaving their passwords written on sticky notes next to their keyboards. Simply ensuring your staff knows how to lock a computer before stepping away to check on a patient or how to avoid being duped by a social engineering scam can make all the difference.

7. Services

Not every healthcare organization can afford a fully staffed IT department, and even those that can could use a little extra support from time to time. So it makes sense for healthcare organizations to connect with companies such as Insight that can provide access to Intelligent Technology Solutions and IT expertise when and where it’s needed.

IT service providers can partner with medical practices to help them find the best healthcare IT solutions to achieve their goals. They can also provide in-depth consulting to help develop and execute step-by-step plans for implementing those solutions with as few disruptions to daily business operations as possible. In addition, service providers can offer ongoing maintenance and IT systems management. The partnership provided through services such as these can result in serious savings on human resources for healthcare organizations that have limited staffing capacity.

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