Healthcare consumerism is not just a buzzword. It’s a movement changing the reality of how it is delivered. Retailers and other industries like banking and travel with strong consumer strategies understand how to appeal to consumers through convenience and simplicity, two characteristics that healthcare is trying to emulate.
A 2020 consumer experience study uncovered that the process of finding, accessing and paying for healthcare in the U.S. is so inconvenient that half of the consumers surveyed said they have avoided seeking care altogether.
But consumer expectations are driving change – and one prime example is telehealth. Although down from its peaks in 2020, telehealth claims are still 38 times higher than pre-pandemic levels. Further encouraging this long-term growth, the 2022 physician fee schedule from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services extended parity reimbursement for telehealth services through December 31, 2023 – but indicates that changes may be made permanent.
This permanence means practices will need to make long-term changes to accommodate consumer expectations for these services, in addition to the in-person visits.
Practices shifting to this virtual or hybrid care model should not overlook how bi-directional data integration between their electronic health record (EHR) and patient engagement tools, including telehealth platforms, ensures optimal patient care, efficiency, data security and a vastly improved patient experience.
1. Shift to the Cloud Eases Integration
Ten years ago, health systems and practices relied on on-site servers to store and access all data. As the amount of data, new apps and greater demands for data access grew, provider organizations have shifted to cloud-based data centers.
Internal data centers became too costly and time-consuming to manage while the performance and cost of cloud-based servers improved. Not to mention, security risks have now been practically eliminated as cloud server providers started to sign Business Associate Agreements with provider organizations to hold them accountable for PHI breaches. The cloud even provides built-in data redundancy protection in case of a weather event or unpredicted damage to a facility.
This shift to the cloud has also improved the performance of apps, such as telehealth platforms, that need access to patient data. With the proper integration, apps can surface real-time data from the cloud as needed to computers or mobile devices for the telehealth encounters and then input data back as it is created.
2. How Bi-Directional Data Integration Enables Virtual/Hybrid Care
With this smoother flow to data between the app and cloud server, virtual/hybrid care models become much more feasible, as does meeting consumers’ expectations for contactless care. Contactless care refers to a patient experience delivered in a way that avoids unnecessary person-to-person contact and leverages digital tools to deliver healthcare and health-related services similar to experiences in other consumer-focused industries such as aviation, retail and banking.
Combine the agility of the cloud server with bi-directional integration, and patients can schedule their appointment and register, verify their insurance, sign consent forms and authorization releases, verify or update clinical information and more — all of which should update in real-time within the EHR. Furthermore, to improve collections, remain competitive and encourage patient engagement, organizations can employ innovative mobile payment features to improve cash flow, decrease collection fees and reduce write-offs: such as electronic billing, contactless payments and payment plans. Beyond payments, bidirectional data integration facilitates automated communication in the form of HIPAA-compliant two-way text messaging, driving patient engagement. Text messages also can be used to remind patients of upcoming clinical appointments and other scheduled services.
Bi-directional data integration is also essential for implementing a remote patient monitoring (RPM) program. RPM requires organizations to collect vitals and other types of data from patients in their homes, typically directly from monitoring devices. Having an uninterrupted flow of data from these home-based patients means providers will have most current information on a dashboard to support their decisions, while the more granular data can be stored in a cloud-based server. This saves providers from searching through outputs to determine health trends and decide on an outreach plan to improve patient outcomes.
You’re probably asking yourself: what about my EHR investment? Many of the EHR systems now have some kind of app store or developer program that allows third-party vendors to apply for and consume real-time FHIR or proprietary API endpoints to facilitate bi-directional integration. Given that EHR vendors vary in their support of FHIR and other API endpoints, there is variability in what bi-directional integration exists. However, ONC’s 21st Century Cures Act Final Rule mandates that EHR vendors must allow for patient access to their medical record information, and the EHR vendors may not insist on terms or conditions that are burdensome or discourage use of the EHR vendor’s API. In other words, no more “information blocking” practices as outlined by the ONC.
3. Easing Clinician Burden
Beyond the patient experience, bidirectional data integration also changes the provider experience by reducing their technology management burden. For each hour of clinical face-to-face time physicians spend with patients, an additional two are filled with administrative and clerical tasks. Automating administrative intake processes with digital check-in can lower the burden on providers and staff by putting documentation in the hands of patients, which streamlines workflows, saves hundreds of staff hours and reduces data entry errors.
Bidirectional data integration with the telehealth platform means the clinician will not need to search for relevant data in the EHR while trying to listen and maintain eye contact with the patient, which is crucial for a positive virtual encounter. In addition, bidirectional data integration will enable access to the timeliest information available, whether the clinician is delivering a telehealth appointment at their home or caring for a patient in a hospital miles away. Accurate and reliable information is crucial for provider adoption; if they do not trust the data, they will not use the technology. Also having access to data as needed – instead of being stored in another database – reduces the risk of a data breach.
Choosing a cloud-based technology partner with solutions that can integrate across multiple EHRs and cloud-based server platforms alleviate health systems and practices from that integration burden. Not to mention, organizations do not need to maintain and upgrade the software, further unloading the burden on staff.
4. Competitive Advantage
While patients may never know or care about their healthcare organization’s bidirectional data integration strategy, what they will notice is their own experience before, during and after their care. By making all the steps associated with that care easy, such as scheduling, communicating, receiving care, paying their bill – and accessible through their mobile device – patients will likely think of that provider organization first when seeking care.
When accessing care is easy and convenient, the patient will continue to choose that provider organization over the one that does not offer these digital tools. Bidirectional data integration that enables a virtual/hybrid care model can help organizations distinguish themselves in their community and encourage patient attraction and retention.
About John Orosco
John Orosco is president and CEO of JASE Health. JASE Health leverages decades of EMR integration expertise as well as a deep understanding of healthcare provider workflow to help knock down technical barriers. JASE Health provides technical consulting and integration solutions to solve data interoperability challenges. Follow John on Twitter and LinkedIn.