Should We Really Point the Finger at Technology for Patient Care Challenges?

Sheri Stoltenberg, Founder & CEO of Stoltenberg Consulting, Inc.
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Sheri Stoltenberg, Founder & CEO of Stoltenberg Consulting, Inc.

As patient expectations evolve, today’s healthcare providers must also adjust in order to meet consumer demands along with government mandates and reimbursement requirements. Yet still, many clinicians struggle with providing desired patient care experiences while being overwhelmed with electronic health record (EHR) use.

It’s common to blame technology when we fail patients in any way. However, as we look deeper at the challenges of healthcare delivery in the United States, this begs the question:  Are we, as an industry, wrongly pointing the finger at technology? Put another way, is technology really to blame for our lack of meeting patient expectations?

Taking a closer look at some of the more common healthcare technologies and applications from EHRs to telemedicine can help us get a clearer view of technology’s role in patient care, and the extent to which technology affects patient care experiences, negatively or positively.

EHR Use Frustrations

Today, 97 percent of U.S. hospitals and 75 percent of physicians across the country are using EHRs. However, while EHR technology is necessary for healthcare providers to compete in an increasingly consumer-driven care landscape, EHR data input and daily use are contributing to physician burnout and less-meaningful patient interactions.

  ​As the healthcare industry becomes more consumer driven, healthcare providers must welcome technology to elevate patient care and revenue management capabilities  

For example, 74 percent of physicians feel that their facilities are not effectively addressing physician burnout, with EHR use and time consumption as the biggest causes for frustration.

Another study, published in The Annals of Internal Medicine found that while in the exam room physicians spent 53 percent of direct clinical face time with patients and 37 percent of their time on EHR and desk work. Once home, doctors average an extra one to two hours completing or updating EHRs.

With data like this, it’s no wonder so many clinicians believe EHR use is a double-edged sword. According to a Black Book consumer healthcare survey, 85 percent of doctors reiterate that the addition of EHRs and other technologies makes patient care too impersonal, yet 89 percent of consumers demand access to more information and choices in their treatment providers, locations and alternatives. With healthcare consumerism here to stay, patients want care through technology-driven capabilities. Simultaneously, healthcare providers must optimize EHR clinical workflow to ease physician burden and stay competitive in this value-based care market.

Opportunities for Growth through Healthcare Technology

As the healthcare IT landscape continues to change, a number of promising technologies could have a positive effect on patient care experiences. The following technology initiatives are helping to improve patient care and hospital ROI potentials:

1. Mobile health. The use of mobile health (mhealth) apps doubled from 2013 to 2015, according to a PwC survey, and growth is expected to continue in 2017. Mobile health applications can help healthcare providers improve outreach, population health management and patient engagement efforts, while keeping patients out of the hospital. Mhealth capabilities can expand provider impact on patient follow-up care and wellness decisions for improved care delivery.

2. Telemedicine. Today’s patients are looking for care convenience. According to one recent consumer survey sponsored by American Well, one in five consumers would switch current primary care providers (PCP) if another PCP in their area offered telehealth visits, while 65 percent of those surveyed expressed interest in seeing their PCP over a video interface. Telehealth initiatives are expanding care capabilities across the country for remote and rural health providers as well. Congress’ 2016 passing of the Expanding Capacity for Health Outcomes (ECHO) Act expands Project ECHO’s model to pair academic medical specialists with primary care providers through virtual clinics for mentoring with behavioral health and population health management. Proven through several academic studies, Project ECHO’s model lessens rural physicians’ feelings of isolation through cost-effective access to specialty care best practices.

3. Interoperability. The organization HIMSS defines interoperability in healthcare as the ability of different information technology systems and software applications to communicate, exchange data and use the information that has been exchanged. Healthcare providers, especially small physician practices or rural health groups, are often at the mercy of their EHR vendors in terms of willingness and capability of data sharing. With the passing of 2016’s 21st Century Cures Act, the U.S. government has now clearly defined data blocking and its commitment toward holding the private sector accountable for transparency in healthcare IT. This puts pressure on vendors to enable interoperability, which better connects providers for improved patient care and safety across patients’ medical journeys.

4. Business Intelligence. On top of expanding patient care initiatives, technology also streamlines hospitals’ financial management processes through business intelligence applications. Today healthcare providers can view a more complete picture of claims management by analyzing key performance indicators (KPIs) with business intelligence (BI) tools to identify potential improvement areas for operational change. Utilizing BI tool insights can help healthcare organizations leverage distinct improvements in cash flow and collection rates from payers, while decreasing denial rates. This combination can lead to better-informed decision making, higher billing and administrative staff satisfaction, increased revenue and better overall financial health, along with a more effectively run organization over the long term.

As the healthcare industry becomes more consumer driven, healthcare providers, whether a small physician practice or a multi-facility healthcare system, must welcome technology to elevate patient care and revenue management capabilities.

By pointing the finger at technology’s annoying nuances, providers waste time and optimization potential, or the opportunity to strategize how to mine technology to improve care across the continuum to remain competitive.

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