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The Next Normal for Healthcare Digital Transformation

The race to develop and sell patient experience technology solutions has reached a fever pitch. While each solution provides its own experiential benefits, successful implementation requires mapping those benefits across the needs and workflows of all patient experience stakeholders: clinicians, staff and patients.

June 16, 2020 7 minute read

As the world begins to transition from the COVID-19 crises, there is little doubt that healthcare — especially cost and accessibility — will move to center stage in 2020. Politicians will soon present bold plans for transforming the industry, and healthcare systems will promote their investments in technology and transformation as the entire industry plays catch up with the rest of the digital economy. 

The race to develop and sell patient experience technology solutions has reached a fever pitch. While each solution provides its own experiential benefits, successful implementation requires mapping those benefits across the needs and workflows of all patient experience stakeholders: clinicians, staff and patients. For example, a solution that reduces friction for patients may increase work for clinicians. Introducing multiple layers of technology complexity for your employees may reduce the effectiveness of any single solution. 

So, the key question for the remainder of 2020 may be whether your digital transformation is benefitting patients or complicating their experience.

2020 opportunities, challenges and issues

In a late 2019 study by the Healthcare Executive Group (HCEG), payer, provider and technology partner organizations from across the country ranked the top 10 opportunities, challenges and issues facing healthcare executives in 2020. While the pandemic has sapped the resources of health systems, these initiatives will soon require a renewed focus.

It’s not surprising that healthcare digital transformation is lagging behind other industries. The healthcare journey is complex. Unlike other more transactional industries, interactions between providers and patients are longer term, more complicated and with higher stakes. Holistic health, costs, accessibility, payment models, regulations and security all directly or indirectly impact the patient experience. It’s a game of which comes first, the chicken or the egg.

In the "next normal," the focus begins with the patient.

Focus on the patient

Many health system processes were built for the convenience of the organization, not the patient. These processes were built with the best of intentions: to excel at quality of care, to be efficient and to help reduce costs. But processes that don’t align with customers’ preferences, when appropriate, can build unnecessary friction between the brand and the patient customer.

Healthcare systems have traditionally implemented individual digital solutions to solve short-term friction points: like telemedicine or even scheduling apps. But with the shift from volume to value, these patient experience solutions must also align with the workflows of the care teams to create efficiencies and improve value.

As healthcare systems expand access points, those friction points multiply exponentially. While recent delivery model transformation has introduced new closer-to-home, in-person access points like retail clinics, home-based care and micro-hospitals, it also includes digital access points like telehealth, mHealth, wearables and other types of IoT monitoring. This increases the number of disparate technology solutions that patients use, resulting in additional steps, additional data entry and multiple communications channels.

The myriad of platforms can also create “digital fatigue,” resulting in limited adoption and reducing the value of all solutions. To avoid overwhelming the patient, it’s critical to align the appropriate technology to the patient’s needs. This starts with a holistic understanding of the patient’s journey at every step, not just their primary care journey. It means mapping not only the steps they’ll take, but also the friction points they’ll encounter along the way.

However, that’s just half the interaction. It’s just as important to understand how the patient’s needs and expectations influence the workflow and productivity of your people.

Alignment with workplace productivity

Expanding the number and types of access points is perfect for the patient, but how does it affect workflows and quality of care?

Patient information is being gathered across those access points. Medical information like health history, lab results and prescriptions. Personalized background statistics on socioeconomic, geographic, genomic, demographic and lifestyle behaviors. Monitoring data from sensors, mHealth and IoT devices.

Logically, quality of care should improve as a result. Access to this robust patient profile impacts overall treatment and health outcomes, so it follows that aggregating patient data provides valuable insights into diagnosis and treatment. 

However, that data may be input into multiple EMR systems, even within the same health organization. To date, these proprietary records systems rarely play nice. Then there are the multiple fragmented data streams from all those technology solutions. Even within a single health system, multiple technology solutions are onboarded across multiple locations or departments, with little or no alignment of the organizational dependencies or interoperability requirements. Therefore, integration remains a challenge.

So, while the EMR was originally designed to provide value to physicians and patients, it currently falls short. Initially, there were to be three phases for the industry rollout of digital health records. The first was to get as many hospitals, clinics and providers as possible to purchase and use an EMR. Then came meaningful use, to ensure the electronic exchange of health information that improved the quality of care. Now, the industry is in the third phase, focusing on qualitative measures and quality measurements. However, somewhere along the line, we skipped the part where the patient is the focal point of the solution.

As a result, many EMR systems make it challenging to integrate many of those disparate technology tools designed to streamline the patient experience. With limited exchange of patient, payer and provider data, duplicate efforts are required on behalf of the patient and the medical staff, creating more obstacles to clinical workflows and ultimately the patient experience. It’s currently estimated that for every hour that a clinician spends with a patient, they invest nearly two hours in administrative work or data entry. This is valuable time that could be used to see patients.

Outside interoperability challenges, most healthcare systems don’t need the number of tools they’ve deployed. In some cases, there are duplicate features that can be consolidated into a single solution. It’s not about the technology — it requires analyzing the processes. Workflow maps for the clinician and staff, aligned against the patient experience, can help provide a roadmap to improved health outcomes and better business outcomes.

Alignment with business outcomes

The shift from volume to value must also be balanced with the growing costs of care. Not only the continuously rising provider pricing, but also the introduction of promising, yet expensive, new treatment options like gene and cell therapies. 

This situation creates market pressures to find creative ways to finance care, spread risk and ensure value. The recent introduction of Medicare-for-all proposals, the COVID-19 pandemic and the upcoming election virtually guarantee that major changes for the US healthcare system are on the horizon.

Managing these changes will require a collaborative approach to develop technical and operational efficiencies to manage costs, share risk and improve health outcomes so health systems can deliver against their business outcomes: 

  • A frictionless patient experience encourages brand loyalty and increased utilization across the system.
  • Actionable and complete patient data drives better adherence and overall health outcomes.
  • Improved quality of care paired with reduced administrative burdens help facilitate provider effectiveness.
  • Intelligently routing patients to new delivery models that provide access to the appropriate level of care.
  • Robust predictive and risk analytics.

Most health organizations address their opportunities, challenges and issues one at a time. They evaluate and deploy technology enablement solutions on an as-needed basis. As the complexity rises, we encourage our healthcare clients to broaden this viewpoint by analyzing all the interdependencies of these solutions mapped against the needs of patients, clinicians, employees and even payers. Only then can you ensure delivery of the business outcomes required to operate effectively in the next normal.

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