The U.S. healthcare system has been in desperate need of modernization for decades. Thankfully, essential change is finally happening.
IT workers at healthcare organizations are now creating more efficient and effective electronic health records (EHRs), a process that requires integrating EHRs with new patient-access technologies. It also means that other healthcare workers – medical assistants, teletriage nurses, call center agents, etc. – need to change the way they work in response.
The market for EHRs exploded in 2022 to nearly $28 billion, an increase of $11 billion over 2017. This means that healthcare organizations are starting to reap the benefits of EHR advancements and interoperability.
However, to maximize return on investment of EHR systems, IT departments must ensure their EHR platform is interoperable with third-party patient access software and open APIs. This interoperability allows providers to reap optimal benefits from their EHR platform.
The growing role of IT in patient access
Legacy EHR platforms – such as Epic and NextGen – have historically focused on optimizing in-person “bedside” functions and financial processes, a.k.a. the visit itself and the billing process after the visit. Existing EHR and practice management systems, therefore, have relatively little functionality outside of the doctor’s office or the hospital bedside. But things are changing. Innovations in patient access technology are rapidly expanding to include not just bedside tasks, but also scheduling, engagement, and communication.
The EHR is the core of this growing patient access ecosystem. And IT personnel have become vital to this transformation. IT departments must expand their focus beyond simply customizing EHR systems to their organization; they must instead commit to full operational transformation. This requires IT departments to focus on the entirety of their patient access system, rather than just on physician-centered clinical processes.
For example, legacy EHR platforms usually lack a number of important abilities that are crucial to this new patient-access ecosystem. This includes the ability to automate complex healthcare scheduling, provide call center agents with AI-guided call support, transmit appointment reminders and rescheduling links, analyze business intelligence, and enable ongoing engagement and marketing campaigns.
Successfully executing and optimizing these abilities requires integration of EHR platforms with third-party patient access software or an open API. And that’s where interoperability comes in. Interoperability refers to the ability of different systems—EHRs, open APIs, and third-party software—to work together within health care organizations and between healthcare organizations.
Interoperability is more than just sharing records. It means data is fully integrated into a single cloud-based system so that healthcare facilities can access information and utilize functionality quickly and easily on computers, laptops, mobile devices, and patient portals.
This forms a symbiotic relationship that benefits the EHR vendor, the software vendor, and most importantly, health care providers, whose access system will then be able to perform a deep variety of clinical and non-clinical functions that improve care and service.
The benefits of interoperability
Again, interoperability means more than just IT systems working together. Interoperability also slashes costs by reducing hardware and software expenditures. It eliminates burdensome maintenance and upgrade fees, and it boosts revenue by streamlining the scheduling and payment processes.
Interoperability also leads to better relationship management and optimizes the use of resources. Most importantly, interoperability enhances the patient experience thanks to more personalized treatments and smooth communication. Combined, all of these patient and provider benefits engender a more efficient, collaborative, and patient-centered healthcare ecosystem that fosters innovation and ensures optimal health outcomes.
But IT departments can go even further with this transformation by incorporating artificial intelligence (AI) into their EHR systems. Historically, AI in EHRs has focused almost solely on in-person physician support. In recent years, AI has expanded beyond the bedside and can now handle complex operational and telemedicine functions.
For example, during telehealth visits, AI can assume scheduling and communication responsibilities that would ordinarily fall to overworked staffers. AI can also assess symptoms, generate a list of possible diagnoses, and create a personalized treatment plan based on the patient’s medical history and other data.
The ROI of interoperable EHR systems
ROI for healthcare organizations is determined by the cost of acquiring a new patient, and by the revenue that new patient generates. Key operational metrics for ROI include the cost to execute each patient scheduling request, the rate of first contact resolution, average handle time, and the percentage of appointments that patients self-schedule online.
Measuring and optimizing these metrics is essential, because what patients really want, more than anything, are simple and streamlined experiences. The Harvard Business Review recently published an eye-opening article called “Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers,” which argued that ease of service, even if that service isn’t flashy or unique, is the primary driver of consumer satisfaction and behavior.
What’s more, Gartner’s customer effort score (CES) is predicated on the idea that simple, streamlined experiences engender the most consumer loyalty. Understanding and Improving this metric should therefore be the first priority of healthcare IT staff.
Fully interoperable EHRs ensure that healthcare staff has seamless and simple workflows and that patients have streamlined and satisfying experiences. The result: greater efficiency, stronger patient-provider relationships, and better health outcomes.
About Stephen Dean