The Unseen and Unsung Hero of Healthcare Is Software
It used to be the case that healthcare technology needed to be hosted on premises, with an IT support squad to make it both well-oiled and cyber-safe.
But times change, the cloud got secure, and software-makers targeting the healthcare industry became HIPAA compliant. As a result, healthcare providers of all sizes have been able to automate paper and manual small scale processes far more easily.
To find out what everyday processes have been transformed by technology, and how patients are benefiting, I spoke to Betsy Coldren, Administrator at Emergency Physicians of the Rockies in Colorado, Scott Heintzeman, COO at VitreoRetinal Surgery in Minnesota, Dr Phil Boucher, a pediatrician and business owner at Lincoln Pediatric Group in Nebraska, and Christopher Steen, COO of Revere Health in Utah.
Emergency Physicians of the Rockies found that even though it was sharing important information virtually – by email and by hosting it and making it searchable in the digital workplace – not all staff were reading it.
Coldren said: “The content is generally important clinical process changes, pertinent clinical education and announcements that impact patient care. These go out every couple of weeks to all physicians and physician assistants, yet we were still hearing from employees that they ‘never heard about that’ or ‘never got that information’.”
Although all job descriptions require staff to stay current on procedures and processes, it was clear more needed to be done to proactively assure high-quality patient care, so the practice launched ‘Required Reads’. Now, all content deemed important enough is deposited alongside a policy manager tool that gives employees a deadline of two weeks to acknowledge receipt.
Coldren said this had alerted staff to the rich knowledge base that was also hosted on the platform, adding: “When they know they can access the latest stroke treatment protocol, check how to use the EMR to admit a patient to the trauma service this week, read our journal club articles, see algorithms for the treatment of sepsis or the procedure for transferring a high-risk obstetrical patient from one emergency department to another quickly, there is some peace of mind.”
Training & compliance
VitreoRetinal Surgery moved its systems to a HIPAA-compliant digital workplace, having previously relied on email and printed manuals to update staff on compliance, policies and procedures. Heintzeman said:
Information is now refreshed in real time so no one has access to outdated policy manuals and, crucially, accountability for information is assured. People can’t say ‘I never saw that memo’, because we can see they have it and the system tells us who has read it. It has inspired our staff to see the potential of tech to change processes; they have recently invented a new way to distribute real-time updates of complex and rapidly-changing insurance information. Training is always available via shared documents, checklists and videos that live in the e-learning area of our digital workplace, and which can be accessed from anywhere by smartphone.”
Dr Phil Boucher’s primary care pediatric clinic sees more than 30,000 patients a year. Using software to improve communication between staff means no more time wasted hunting down colleagues and hanging around in hallways.
Boucher recalled: “Before our internal messaging system, nurses would circle around the office looking for the person they needed to speak to and doctors would have to wait outside patients’ rooms to tell nurses they needed vaccines, or a breathing treatment or a test done. Now, if anyone needs an additional set of hands, instead of literally running around trying to find someone who’s available, they can message the entire nurse pool to ask for assistance and those available can respond.”
The in-office messaging system has had unexpected cultural benefits, too. Boucher said:
I think it contributes to office morale and culture. I often walk by computer stations and see a GIF being shared. It’s probably a distraction at times but we employ a lot of millennials and that is a way they communicate, feel acknowledged, empathize and let off steam. The work expectations are the same and we can monitor it if we need to but have never had a reason.”
Revere Health has more than 100 clinics throughout the states of Utah, Arizona and Nevada. It needed to automate data collection to address quality gaps and identify and assess Hierarchical Condition Category (HCC) codes for patients, so it developed an in-house program that is now an integral part of its staff’s daily workflow.
Steen said: “Our technology has improved clinical operations in many ways, but most importantly is our staff’s ability to meet quality metrics and risk stratify patients appropriately. It’s also played a role in producing significant cost savings, of over $30 million since 2015.”
Prior to Revere’s transition to a value-based care operation and a next-generation Affordable Care Organization, each clinic had its own patient care processes. Although its quality team created some standardized reports, these were not uniformly used by every clinic for every patient. The result was that HCC codes were not always reassessed for every patient and missing quality metrics were not always known about or addressed.
Steen said: “Now that every clinician has access to the same, real-time data, we have been able to improve our quality score, which is an average of several different quality metrics such as preventive screenings, patient satisfaction, health outcomes and care coordination. Before automation in 2016, it was 91.1%; now it is at 96.2%.”
He added: For many people in the medical field, the added administrative burdens that come with ACO and non-government programs can be challenging to take on in addition to the time it takes to provide excellent patient care – often leading to burnout and other negative consequences. Having a streamlined way to meet the administrative tasks required and also continue to provide the highest quality patient care is a significant step toward being successful in our value-based care efforts to reduce the total cost of care and improve patient outcomes.”
Recommended for you: Investing Wisely in the Healthcare IT Ecosystem
This blog is provided for informational purposes only and may require additional research and substantiation by the end user. In addition, the information is provided “as is” without any warranty or condition of any kind, either express or implied. Use of this information is at the end user’s own risk. CenturyLink does not warrant that the information will meet the end user’s requirements or that the implementation or usage of this information will result in the desired outcome of the end user.