3 Ways Healthcare Can Be Better, Even After COVID19

Learn from the experts how healthcare, which is traditionally behind the times, can get a sorely needed boost in the wake of the pandemic.

By A.J. Hanna, Sykes Enterprises, & Michael Grace, RPI Consultants

The COVID-19 pandemic has stressed all parts of the healthcare system. And while we are seeing the best f our caregivers and those serving in our communities, we are also seeing more clearly the long-standing barriers to efficient execution of healthcare. Many of these are not simple to fix. Will the American healthcare system take this opportunity to push for change once we have stabilized from the current crisis?

With more than 45 years healthcare experience between the two of us – working for providers and payors, both in operations and IT- we have had front row seats as the American healthcare system has struggled to “keep up with the times.” We have seen how some deep-seated practices are keep the industry from taking advantage of all the modern technology has to offer.

The continual breakdown of interoperability between systems, an understandable but crippling conservatism regarding data security, reluctance to invest in technology, and resistance to administrative change are just some of the obstacles keeping healthcare from moving forward. But COVID-19 has put us in a unique situation; it’s forced our hand and jump-started the overwhelming process of change for the healthcare industry.

Specifically, we see three high-value areas that the pandemic has revealed where improvements would make operations more efficient and enable the industry to respond more effectively in the future: interoperability, data security, and digital transformation.

1. The Case to Improve Interoperability

In the healthcare industry, interoperability is complex. Disparate computer and software systems need to exchange and share data from a range of vital sources, including laboratories, clinics, pharmacies, hospitals, and medical practices. This is no easy task, given that various practices use hundreds of software platforms to document care.

Healthcare has struggled with this for almost a decade and has made minimal progress. The best results come from providers leveraging the same system. The most recent improvement efforts have seen acute-care providers give the post-acute community access to their electronic health record (EHR) systems (Cerner, Epic, etc.), to facilitate easier transfer of information between caregivers.

The benefit to the patient in resolving interoperability issues would be monumental and include better efficiency, safer care, and lower costs.

3 Benefits of Solving Interoperability Hurdles

Improved Efficiency 

Information should follow the patient and be available to all providers, public health officials, and payors. Imagine the downtick in administrative issues without duplicative patient information entries or medical record transfer delays when a COVID patient moves from an emergency hospital stay to a rehabilitation setting and then to their primary caregivers. With improved interoperability, access to the patient’s information would be immediate instead of potentially delayed by days or weeks to make a full transfer.

Better, Safer Care

With easier access to more information from other providers, doctors could diagnose and treat patients more efficiently and effectively. Often, when patients hear, “We’ll get back to you with the results in two or three days,” much of that is simply the inefficiency of transmitting results between providers. Improved interoperability and even certain advances technologies could serve to provide more reliable patient data  and close the gap on receiving critical diagnostic information.

Saved Time & Money

Unnecessary duplicate tests and incorrect procedures are costly, but they could be prevented if data could flow freely and quickly. With immediate, seamless, and free access to full patient medical records, referrals, and medication lists, patients and providers alike would save the time and expense of gathering and moving data between points of care. With more complete and readily available information, it would likewise improve cost-effectiveness for insurance providers in considering claims.

Not only would improving interoperability make healthcare providers’ lives easier while also benefiting their patients, it would allow public health officials to access the flow of data and care information for better prediction of and response to major health events. If we had access to this information at the onset of the pandemic in America, coupled with the appropriate monitoring, we might have been act earlier and proactively allocate resources to predicted high-impact areas.

The resolution to the interoperability issues will no doubt be complex and require a huge investment in resources. However, the changing culture may force the industry to start addressing interoperability now. As it stands, there is a major gap in interoperability. Patient, provider, , and insurance information should flow seamlessly, simultaneously ensuring accuracy, cost-effectiveness, and a higher level of care.

Healthcare organizations that take the lead in resolving the issue will attract those patients who reject old methods of passing information between players they feel are all part of the same care experience. Providers who assure that the software they use complies with standards like the Fair Healthcare Interoperability Resource (FHIR) standard will be in prime position to capture this part of the market.

2. Treat Data Security as an Opportunity, Not an Obstacle

The healthcare industry needs to protect patient data as it embraces more and more digital health technologies, including wearables, diagnostic equipment, telemedicine tools, mobile care apps, cloud applications, and data-driven software platforms. While technology can increase patient accessibility and satisfaction with their overall care, these digital tools don’t come with risks – most specifically to sensitive patient data.

Healthcare information security continues to be a growing concern. An Experian report found that hospital networks continue to be “a ripe target for attackers,” since data is spread over different networks, making it harder to defend than more centralized organizations. (1)

Additionally, the interest in securing healthcare often creates innovation inhibitors. The most secure application is one that exists in a silo and shares no information with anyone or anything. Legacy information security teams used to simply deny access or integration requests, citing them as “a data security risk.” For healthcare to move forward, data security must balance protecting systems, information, and privacy with innovation and interoperability across other systems and organizations.

Data security should become an environment of listening to the needs of the patient and customer and innovating how to secure the data for their requests. This is a paradigm shift that has only just begun with the new guard in information security. Data security professionals must face the challenge of giving users secure access. As consumers want more of their data, and as we have a larger need for access to healthcare data at a global level during a pandemic, this shift is key to predictive analytics and treatments, early warnings of global health issues, and better follow-up care for patients.

Part of the issue comes in finding standards. There are more than 125 healthcare information security companies with as many solutions. Organizations such as Healthcare Information and Management Systems (HIMSS) and HITRUST have struggled to get wide adoption of tools and standards. Organizations typically have their own plan, and some find that moving applications to the cloud provides an extra security layer versus having servers in a hospital data center. While this solves one problem, it can create another related to access to data in the hands of the end users trying to automate processes and create efficiencies. This area of healthcare IT is rapidly evolving, with tools allowing hybrid environments where cloud data can be accessed from on-premises application.

The rapid rate of innovation in information security makes it one of the fastest evolving areas of healthcare IT. Every day, those in healthcare IT are challenged by wearables, new cloud applications, or better access to data. How they respond to these will determine how fast as organization moves along the innovation continuum.

3. Embrace Digital Across the System

Given the challenges with interoperability and the continued focus on data security, it may not be surprising that healthcare lags behind other industries in the adoption of digital technology. Healthcare providers spend significant resources every year in assuring the security of data, maintaining a library of niche applications, and supporting multiple versions of core systems or duplicative systems due to the expense and