Recently, I came across a story on a high-end care facility situated in Philadelphia. The said center was equipped with highly advanced machines, served high-income patients, and their services were fairly ‘integrated.’ A patient could visit a PCP on one floor and get diagnostic imaging done on another. However, any two systems did not connect. An X-ray image had to be first printed, faxed, and then again scanned in the physician’s desktop— taking a fair amount of time, and image quality was deteriorated to a great extent every time.
The above-mentioned story presents a classic case of underutilization of advanced solutions and technologies that are present today. Truth be told, the healthcare sector lacks behind other sectors when it comes to utilizing cutting-edge technologies like data sciences and machine learning.
From predicting customer trends to demand forecasting, sectors like finance and retail have advanced to a level where they can generate near-accurate user-trends across different platforms or geographies. Or, take a classic case of technology giants like Google and Apple. Your choice of music, the kind of news you follow, your favorite basketball team- not only the preferences of each user are taken into account, specific strategies built around those touchpoints act as an inducement for engaging users in the most personalized manner.
What do healthcare organizations actually lack?
The ability to seamlessly connect different systems as well as facilities within a network is one of the crucial aspects of building a patient-centric, cost-effective environment. However, the prospect of these systems sharing information among themselves bidirectionally, though fairly realistic, looks like a far-fetched goal for many organizations. Ironically enough, the goal to build such a system has been around for more than a decade.
While organizations now have provisions for digitally recording and storing patient data, data interoperability remains a significant challenge. Fax machines, particularly, are still a major source of health data communication. So are manual interventions like calls and typing emails. Today, care teams need automated process right at the point-of-care. Any administrative task is a burden, given the amount of resources and energy that goes down the drain in performing those uncalled-for exercises.
The 3 F’s for Care Innovations— Flow, Feasibility, Flexibility
Any healthcare data platform should ideally follow a model which I sometimes refer to as 3 F’s-
Flow– The foremost thing is to ensure that data silos do not pile up, and different systems communicate with each other. Additionally, the data should be accessible to each member of the care team to ensure everyone has updated information about patient’s health. Missing even a single data point can potentially result in great quality as well as financial losses.
Flexibility– Data liquidity, in fact, the absence of data liquidity, has been one of the much-debated topics in health IT for years. Data sets shouldn’t be rigid. They should facilitate to and from communication at each level so that patient records can easily be updated and improved. This is critical to eliminate any possibility of coding gaps, either upcoding or downcoding.
Feasibility– The data transmission should be a feasible process- it shouldn’t involve manual interventions, it shouldn’t be slow, and it shouldn’t be accompanied by security issues. Instead, it should be a smooth affair so that every information is captured on a real-time basis. No matter how critical a detail might be, it’d be of little use if it is not delivered to the concerned provider timely.
The right method and scope of unifying the care services
Unifying the care services requires strategic planning and approach. For example, manually inputting or retrieving data can potentially result in errors in reporting on patient health trends. Healthcare organizations might not necessarily need EHRs capable of recording every type of patient data, but what they need are softwares that can connect with each other. And for that, we need advanced protocols which can make those systems talk with each other.
Protocols such as HL7 Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) and Continuity of Care Document (CCD) can be regarded as ice-breakers in this regard. Based on standardized application programming interface (API) standards, FHIR, for instance, allows users to create customizable applications best suited for their needs and can supply relevant information directly into the existing workflows of the care teams.
Inter-connected services can provide care teams with much-needed flexibility since interoperable systems facilitate remote access of the complete patient data, irrespective of the number of facilities a patient might have visited. Providers can view patient records from the comfort of their office without worrying about going to other departments for retrieving critical information. Further, the information that they will receive at the point-of-care will be in real time, thus making it extremely convenient for them to monitor patient health and make timely interventions.
Reporting is another aspect in which organizations can improve by unifying their care services. In times when physicians spend half of their time on administrative tasks, care teams are becoming more and more frustrated with every passing day. What they need is simplified reporting and quality dashboards which can be customized as per their needs and feasibility. The logic is simple- if complete patient details are available at a single platform, reporting on quality metrics will automatically become much more convenient and streamlined.
What lies ahead
As we move towards an era of interconnected systems and allied interests, stand-alone facilities within a healthcare organization will soon become a bygone thing. However, for that to happen, the healthcare leadership need to channelize their efforts in the right direction. Investing in IT infrastructure and making different systems talk to each other will make the care teams more powerful when it comes to clinical decision-making, and will also ensure fewer medication errors and gaps in care.
Optimizing the use of advanced technologies will be the key in years to come, and from automation to voice-commands, fancy technologies will disrupt the healthcare space. Imagine a framework where care teams have to only focus on providing care and everything else would be taken care of- the seemingly perfect scenario is set to become a reality!