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Put Patients First When Modernizing Healthcare Technology

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By David Nickelson

VP of Client Growth — Healthcare

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Healthcare system leaders that prioritize investments in patient-centered IT systems find they’re adding value to both clinical and business operations. The results: indisputable improvements to technology investments and better health outcomes for patients.

Until recently, the healthcare industry focused on moving transaction data faster and more efficiently to generate revenue. However, with the rise of value-based reimbursement models, the industry must shift priorities to identify and deliver the right transactions. That is, the ones that engage patients, help them prevent health problems (or quickly deal with emerging conditions), and help them make the right decisions about the most efficient and effective forms of care.

This journey is a lot more than launching a few trendy and cool digital applications. It’s building a durable framework or infrastructure that can easily flex to changing organization requirements and patient needs, emerging technologies and competitive threats.

In this article, we take a close look at:

The benefits of designing your healthcare digital solutions around the patient

How relentless healthcare system consolidations result in islands of unusable data

What you can do to modernize your healthcare technology platforms methodically

1. Design your technology platforms around the patient to reap multiple benefits

Are you solving to make the patient’s life or the clinician’s life easier? We argue the patient should be your raison d’être. Do you have a methodology or approach that helps your stakeholders align around patient needs first?  

In a patient-first model, data is summarized by the patient rather than by hospital, location or department. As more healthcare systems focus their organizations on delivering superior patient experiences, IT platforms must also focus on patients.

You may recall when the financial industry followed a similar path, choosing to organize its data around accounts and not customers. Customers weren’t viewed as people; they were savings accounts, IRAs or mutual funds. Likewise, the insurance industry was organized around policies, not customers.

On the other hand, when you employ agile service design practices, you’re prioritizing customer experience with the patient at the center, which results in a 360° view. A few years ago, for instance, Cleveland Clinic was recognized for creating a world-class clinical care and team model, where all stakeholders are aligned around providing a superior patient experience.

In these patient-centered models, healthcare systems hyper-focus on the “patient journey” and design care services and communications around the patient. Today, in most healthcare systems, care is based on transactions, “assembly lines” that move people as fast as possible while providing them with services and supplies. You go to the ER; you get bills from the hospital, the anesthesiologist, ER doctor and pharmacy.

Here, IT systems are designed to track and acquire payment for all of the “parts” used on the assembly line. Regrettably, in this assembly-line model, the patient’s (or buyers’) concerns are an afterthought. As Henry Ford once quipped, “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants, so long as it is black.” But unlike car repairs where you know in advance how much you’ll pay for parts and labor, don’t expect this same level of transparency for your healthcare costs, where you won’t learn your actual costs until 30-60 days after your healthcare services. 

Siloed EHR systems: barriers to interoperability

One of the most significant barriers to IT system interoperability are siloed EHR or EMR systems. That’s because these systems were initially designed to collect transactional, fee-for-service data; not the systems that are essential to improve patient care. Nor are standalone EHR systems easy to integrate with other systems.

However, thanks to government intervention, medical records companies must now provide APIs and interconnect competing systems easily. In 2021, for instance, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) invoked new transparency rules requiring hospitals to publish some price data on their websites.

2. Relentless healthcare system consolidations result in islands of unusable data

Rapid industry consolidation has resulted in healthcare systems acquiring multiple platforms that can’t be connected. In our experience, these backend systems are messy and aren’t client or patient-focused.

“With a history of siloed functions, services and interoperability, today’s IT systems reflect the fragmented legacy structure of care delivery in general, as well as limits of IT capabilities,” reports the Harvard Business School’s report on value-based healthcare.

While working with one of our healthcare clients who had acquired several independent clinics, we discovered they were using three different HR systems with three unique employee numbers, which will result in confusion and duplicate data sets.

The companies that are good at on-boarding new acquisitions or divesting new divestitures, and can harmonize those systems quickly, will continue to succeed and gain a competitive advantage. But it takes discipline and a clear plan.

3. Modernize your technology platforms to focus on patients first, improve outcomes

Most healthcare systems we work with begin a modernization project by first understanding the contours of a typical patient journey

We then apply a “digital veneer” over the existing system. The idea here is health systems can start with even the most outdated technology and make an immediate, incremental improvement. The next phase is understanding what the real experience designs look like. And the third phase is slowly modernizing and rationalizing backend systems to meet that desired journey.

To ease the arduous task of transforming an entire healthcare system or enterprise, consider beginning with a single service line such as OB-GYN care or oncology. You’ll also be more successful if you begin a project with CEO buy-in and support. Design with a mindset focused on accessibility, security and patient experience.

Consider these four requirements or guidelines to help you design a patient-focused IT system that:

1. Follows patients over the full cycle of care, including multi-site inpatient care, outpatient care, and overall interventions.

2. Summarizes data by patient rather than by hospital, location or department.

3. Enables data exchange and aggregation among the different provider organizations involved with each patient.

4. Is accessible by referring physicians and patients.

Future-proof your IT platforms — put patients first

If there’s one thing we’ve all learned in the past year, it’s that healthcare — like all industries — is susceptible to catastrophic, unpredictable events, like pandemics. With clinic visits curtailed due to the spreading pandemic, practitioners turned to telehealth technologies to connect with and treat patients.

As a result of these changes in delivering patient care, healthcare systems should ensure data flows seamlessly between your virtual care platforms and your EHR, CRM, and other patient-centric platforms.

What’s more, with the rise of personal health devices such as the Apple Watch and wearable telemetry electronics, there’s a need to plug these into your digital ecosystem. Sometimes these devices are used in conjunction with patient-reported outcomes, or PRO. Because PRO data isn’t nuanced by a health practitioner, it can often fill an information gap in patient medical records. 

Yes, emerging technologies will always impact how healthcare systems deliver patient care, but we would encourage you to measure improvements through the lens of the patient experience. How will technology improvements make the patient journey smoother, less stressful? Does the technology improve outcomes? 

Again, to ensure your healthcare technology platforms prioritize patient experience, don’t summarize your data by hospital, location or department. Modernize your systems on the cornerstone of patient experience and everything else will fall into place.

Start on the path to patient-centric healthcare technology systems today.