Over the past year, we’ve all witnessed the dramatic impact that healthcare IT had on both the selfless clinicians who power our health systems and their patients. The Covid-19 crisis accelerated innovation and led to increased adoption of the cloud and telehealth technologies that helped organizations continue to provide care no matter where they or their patients were.
However, several shortfalls were just as apparent. The 2020 HIMSS Healthcare Cybersecurity Survey found that 70 percent of healthcare organizations experienced a security incident in 2020. Many of these involved ransomware attacks that put patients’ personal health data at risk, and jeopardized the ability of practices to access systems and provide care. Physicians and nurses also still spend far too much time on administrative tasks, whether in the form of paperwork or clicking through screens as a result of electronic health record (EHR) implementations that digitized manual tasks but did little to simplify them.
Healthcare organizations and providers need a new approach to IT that aligns the deployment of systems and technologies with the fundamental tenet of patient-centered care – the guiding principle of reform embraced by governments, hospitals, physicians, and insurers. As an example, patient data must be secure not only to satisfy data protection guidelines but also because such protection is crucial so physicians can use the data to inform and manage courses of treatment.
In much the same way, manual administrative tasks should be eliminated not only because they save money, but more importantly, so healthcare professionals have more time to focus on patients. Requiring a doctor to click through multiple screens on a tablet takes their focus away from patients in the same way that paperwork does.
This new approach – a practice-centered approach to IT services – requires healthcare IT and business leaders to focus on four key aspects of the solutions they deploy. The benefits of these four practice-centered IT elements reflect the Quadruple Aim of patient-centered care. By assessing how their existing infrastructure, systems and protocols stack up against these four points, organizations can begin to transform IT from an operational function into a strategic asset that empowers healthcare organizations to directly impact the clinical mission, including:
– Better Outcomes: Do IT investments and systems lead to better patient outcomes? When properly implemented, today’s IT solutions are proven to lower costs and gain efficiencies that empower clinics, community health centers and health systems to achieve their administrative goals. But do they do the same for clinical goals? When deployed holistically and with a practice-centered approach, these same systems free IT teams to spend more time supporting clinical staff and new practice initiatives – again with the result being more robust and effective care.
– Cost Management: Do IT assets improve patient care and financial metrics? While these goals may on the surface appear to be in opposition, they are inextricably linked. Just as value-based care and a patient-centered approach aim to deliver more favorable patient outcomes, they also lower costs. Specifically, they create efficiencies and negate the need for repeat visits and the continuation of a fee-for-service model for which reimbursement models are phasing out.
– Patient Experience: Do existing IT systems increase patient satisfaction and result in a higher level of care? Healthcare IT teams and operational leaders should be able to point to myriad solutions that directly impact the patient experience from the moment they make an appointment until well after they receive care.
– Provider Experience: Do IT systems and the resulting protocols and processes satisfy the needs of clinical and operational staff? Do they enable clinicians to focus on and spend more time with patients? Do they help operational staff members provide a higher level of assistance to these same caregivers? Existing systems should be intuitive to clinical staff and enable them to work at the height of their licensure. For example, a surgeon should not spend time on data entry.
Assessing how your IT operation stacks up in comparison with these points is the first step towards achieving a practice-centered approach to healthcare IT. It’s also the single most effective way to demonstrate and cement the strategic role of the IT team and to ensure that its role has the greatest impact on patient and business outcomes. Embracing a practice-centered approach to IT makes it possible for caregivers to get the most out of an organization’s technology assets and transforms IT’s role from maintaining internal systems and hardware into one in which they ultimately deliver core clinical solutions.
This practice-centered approach and the shift away from maintaining internal systems is also synonymous with the adoption of cloud-based platforms. This move from on-premises data centers to software-defined alternatives enables practices to harness the inherent elasticity and virtually unlimited capacity the cloud offers. The cloud makes it possible for these organizations to effortlessly spin additional capacity up or down as needed. And software-defined data centers deliver the computing power required to deploy an ever-growing ecosystem of web-based applications without making a large capital investment.
Such an approach also radically simplifies and augments practices’ efforts to safeguard their patient data and systems. Often this evokes a hybrid approach that combines the managed services of a trusted advisor and the use of a robust, compliant private cloud in conjunction with hyper scale offerings such as Microsoft Azure.
Additional advantages include optimized EHR configurations that put crucial data at doctors’ fingertips while simultaneously parsing it to create metrics for population health initiatives. And connected medical devices, such as wireless infusion pumps and other game-changing clinical tools that are integrated with patient records, deliver a new level of personalization even as they save providers’ time.
Practice-centered IT organizations are prepared to adopt new imaging technologies, including 3-D variants, and platforms that enable rapid sharing and greater collaboration among doctors, and they are embracing new diagnostic tests that promise to detect diseases faster than ever. They are also bringing caregivers and patients closer together with new telehealth offerings that make an “in-person” consult possible from across the globe and they are streamlining prior authorizations to secure treatments for patients faster than ever.
The promise of healthcare IT has always been to support and further the core mission of the clinics and networks that provide care, offer solace, and help those in need. By embracing a practice-centered approach to IT, we can do just that. Now is the time for IT to realize its full potential to impact patient care.
About Mona Abutaleb
Mona Abutaleb is the CEO of Med Tech Solutions (MTS). MTS serves thousands of healthcare practices nationwide with infrastructure, services and solutions. Its Practice-Centered Care™ services are supported by dedicated IT Care Teams to ensure that all IT systems support essential clinical workflows, treatments and ultimately patient outcomes.