Healthcare IT has a long way to go before it delivers truly transformative benefits to providers and patients across the healthcare continuum. However, the incremental steps that already have been taken should not be discounted. While a complete digital transformation in healthcare is going to take some time, creativity, and even a few missteps before we get it right, current health IT capabilities are adding value to care delivery.
Take EHRs, for example. For all of their well-publicized problems, physicians have in fact seen some benefits. Consider that not long ago consulting physicians had to spend the night in the hospital just in case their expertise was needed. Then came pagers, and consultants were able to come to the hospital only as and when needed. Now, fast-forward to 2017, and today’s technology allows physicians to completely review up-to-the-second information about a patient and properly triage directly from their mobile devices.
We also have seen technology driving care improvements in the specialty setting. As treatments for strokes have become more effective, for example, it is now critical to have neurologists on-hand 24×7 for immediate care intervention. For many hospitals, this wasn’t practical or even possible. With the digital record, neurologists can now work remotely and cover multiple hospitals, enabling more facilities to deliver world-class stroke care.
More creative and focused use of digital technologies also stands to benefit other clinicians, as well as patients directly.
For instance, mobile health tools free nurses from the constraints of the desktop computer and the nurse’s station. They can now spend more time with patients, communicate, document and administer medications without dragging a workstation with them. Since increased nursing time leads to better patient outcomes, streamlining each nurse’s administrative work through mobility is a cost-effective and logical way to add even greater value to healthcare.
The good news is that the use of mobile solutions by nurses – and other care providers, for that matter – is growing rapidly. In a recent survey by Spok, 65 percent of healthcare professionals who responded said their hospital has a mobility strategy, versus only 44 percent in 2014.
More efficient and streamlined communication solutions also will benefit nurses. Nurses spend a lot of their time communicating with physicians, whether it be asking for a PRN medication to help comfort a patient, alerting physicians of a change in a patient status or contacting a physician about critical labs tests. Yet in the majority of hospitals today, this work still follows the “page” and call-back model, supported in some organizations by unsecure text messages. In the near future, we will see purpose-built communication tools introduced to the market that work in the patient context, with patient information, and allow nurses to communicate easily with physicians who can then take the appropriate action(s).
In addition to clinicians, the digitization of healthcare is bringing value directly to patients. From enabling them to have better access to their providers, to empowering them to get involved in their health decisions, digital technologies are helping to improve patient engagement, care delivery and outcomes. For instance, patient portals and telemedicine solutions are driving more timely and convenient access to care. A recent survey from CDW Healthcare found that 60 percent of patients believe having online health access is making care more timely, while 49 percent said it has improved the convenience of healthcare. In the same CDW Healthcare survey, which polled chronic care patients, 78 percent of those who had access to a patient portal said it helped them take a more active role in their health.
We also are seeing the value that EHRs bring to patients. In a study published in the Annals of Family Medicine, allowing patients to access their own health data, collaborate on physician notes, and schedule appointments via EHRs, helps improve the patient-provider communication. The study also showed that EHRs are enabling patients to set the agenda for appointments, which helps physicians’ optimize visits and prioritize patients’ concerns.
As new digital innovations surface and technology adoption increases, the benefits of these capabilities for physicians, nurses and patients become clearer. Still, healthcare needs to rethink how it operates as a digitized industry in order to realize the full potential of healthcare IT capabilities. Then, and only then, will we start to see the full value of healthcare’s digital transformation.
Paul Brient is the CEO of PatientKeeper, Inc., a provider of healthcare applications for physicians. Prior to joining PatientKeeper in 2002, Brient held senior executive-level positions at leading healthcare and consulting firms including McKesson Corporation, HPR, and The Boston Consulting Group.