Where to invest increasing digital health dollars

Photo: Verato

According to the HIMSS22 State of Healthcare Report, 80% of health system leaders plan to increase their investment levels in digital health over the next five years.

The report also found 60% describe themselves as “stuck in the planning and pre-implementation phases” of digital transformation, either because they don’t have the necessary infrastructure or they lack the high-quality patient and other data required to achieve their goals.

As more organizations are opening the digital front door, patient data and patient identification will become increasingly important, said Clay Ritchey, CEO of Verato, a healthcare digital transformation vendor.

We interviewed Ritchey to discuss the kinds of digital health investments that need to be made, getting health system leaders out of the planning and pre-implementation phase, the roles of CIOs and other C-suite executives in getting “unstuck,” and the relationship between the digital front door and patient data.

Q. The vast majority of healthcare provider organizations are upping their digital health investments, according to HIMSS. Where do you think the key investments need to be made?

A. Healthcare organizations are stepping up their game with respect to digitally transforming their operations, ranging from behind-the-scenes administration to patient-facing interactions at the registration desk and exam rooms.

In fact, our recent report found that 99% of health system leaders consider investing in digital health initiatives vital to their ability to compete in the marketplace.

Healthcare leaders should focus on investing in these areas, but it’s important to note that new technology is not enough. Healthcare organizations run the risk of failing to realize the full potential of these efforts unless they are accompanied by both time and monetary investments in ensuring their organization’s data is clean, accurate and organized, specifically when it comes to foundational elements like patient identity.

After all, you can’t reach your patients or other consumers, or effectively analyze and manage your data, without accurately and reliably knowing who they are.

Q. Most health system leaders say they’re stuck in planning and pre-implementation when it comes to digital health, according to HIMSS. In your experience, why do you think this is?

A. Interoperability and digital health are on the agenda of every healthcare CIO, but the challenge is that critical information about patients is captured in siloed systems. A barrier to true transformation in digital health is that it requires a system with a consistent data model across the healthcare enterprise.

As patients, consumers, members enter health systems through different channels, starting as targets in marketing campaigns, potential walk-ins at affiliated clinics or via telehealth visits, they enter the organization in different systems, and throughout the care journey, the patient’s data will be entered in more systems.

The complexity of getting a full 360 view of the patient, consumer or health plan member has certainly increased.

Q. What must healthcare CIOs and other C-suite executives do to get unstuck?

A. It all comes back to the necessity of a solid foundation of accurate and reliable data on which to digitize every facet of a healthcare organization – from behind-the-scenes administrative operations to care delivery to patient interaction, whether it takes place in-person or online – and it has to include foundational patient data.

More healthcare organizations are looking to onboard digital tools and solutions in the hopes of achieving goals like taking strain off burnt-out staff, automating administrative tasks, acting on more reliable healthcare or population health insights, and more.

This digital-first approach has great potential to solve some of the biggest challenges in healthcare today, but it also means that organizations are inundated with more data streams than ever before.

This data and digital overload can make organizations feel paralyzed, and they’re unable to unlock the true value of their digital investments, or even make the case for how and why to get started on their digital transformation journey.

Reliable and accurate patient data is the key. Healthcare organizations must be able to accurately match and unify records across all systems – EHRs, CRMs, telehealth, patient portal, call center, PACS, home health, pharmacy, etc. And they must do this across their entire network: hospitals, physician groups, ambulatory surgery centers, freestanding radiology departments, long-term care and clinics to understand who is who.

Knowing who is who will create a link between the systems, and once this foundation is in place, healthcare organization leaders must make a cogent, forceful case for digitally transforming their institution with everyone from their frontline providers to the decision-makers in the boardroom.

Having this solid foundation also makes it easier to truly understand the ROI your organization can achieve throughout the digital transformation process, and it’s easier to make and stick to a decision once you have all the right data points in place.

Q. You suggest that as more organizations open the digital front door, patient data and patient identification will become increasingly important. Please elaborate.

A. In today’s evolving healthcare landscape, patient identification is becoming increasingly important but also more complex and complicated. Names change. People move. Gender identities and family structures shift.

Is the John Smith in our EHR the one living on Main Street or the one living on Maple Avenue in the next town over? Is the Michelle Johnson in our emergency room right now the person who had her appendix removed last year or the patient we’re currently treating for Alzheimer’s – or both?

As our patients’ needs and identities evolve, healthcare technology must evolve along with them. Healthcare organization leaders increasingly recognize that legacy identity resolution tools are no longer up to the task.

Almost three-quarters of respondents to our recent survey are concerned or extremely concerned that inaccurate patient data negatively impacts the quality of their care and their bottom line. What’s more, statistics show that historically, 10% of medical records are duplicates because of poor patient identity management, and nearly one-third of insurance claims are denied because of identity issues.

It doesn’t have to be this way. It’s now becoming much easier for healthcare organizations to properly and more consistently match a patient with their data from a variety of sources – even outside of the EHR – to help organizations better understand their patients and rely on much more accurate data.

To transform the healthcare IT infrastructure, you need to have the same patient data across all systems and across all organizations in the network. This has multiple benefits for providers and patients. It helps organizations give patients and their providers anywhere, anytime access to their health records.

It gives patients easier access to online portals. Ultimately, better data gives providers and patients a more frictionless care experience, while it also enables much more successful digital transformation across the healthcare organization.

Understanding who is who across the healthcare enterprise also supports strategic initiatives such as M&As, consumer-centric transformation, equitable healthcare, managing risk, denied claims and patient satisfaction.

At the end of the day, more advanced technologies are not enough. To truly transform and remain competitive in the digital age, leading healthcare organizations realize they also need to know who their current and prospective patients are as fully as they possibly can.

Twitter: @SiwickiHealthIT
Email the writer: [email protected]
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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