Once again, HIMSS is asking for perspective about the value of Health IT. The organization asked members of the social media and blogging community to respond to this very question last year for its second year celebrating National Health IT Week. It’s doing so again in preparation of #HIMSS14.
As I pointed out last year, even though it seems like a simple question, there still don’t appear to be any simple answers. There remains different answers depending on who you ask. So, again, instead of offering my lone opinion, I’ve asked a variety of folks to respond to the question, “What is the value of health IT,” based on their insight and experience serving the space.
The value of health IT lies in its ability to address three of the major, although competing, forces of change in healthcare. The need to standardize care, personalize care, and reduce costs requires the synthesis of vast amounts of data as well as dramatic changes to workflow and process. I can conceive of no way to go about pursuing these changes without technology. The old adage “you cannot improve what you cannot measure” tells us that improving health care requires us to leverage our data, turning it into knowledge and to then build the new workflows that will change the way we deliver care.
Health IT is the means for providing the best possible data at the point of care. It addresses the who, what, when and where of a patient’s care, which helps healthcare providers enhance the patient experience and deliver high-quality of care to improve health and well-being, preserve privacy and ensure security. Health IT facilitates innovation and overcomes interoperability challenges that gives providers transparency for the patient pathway to improve quality of care and minimize clinical and financial costs by eliminating duplicate patient records, incomplete medical histories, incorrect medications, clinical errors, billing mistakes, and avoidable readmissions, as well as correcting the overuse, underuse, and misuse of beneficial care. Adopting health IT is the one strategy healthcare organizations can take to enter a golden age of patient care.
It is no surprise many hospitals and eligible professionals are “heads down” on meaningful use Stage 2 preparations. EHR upgrades, evaluating performance against increased thresholds for carry-over objectives from Stage 1, and delving into the technical, procedural and workflow complexities of many new objectives has caught many providers off guard, particularly those for whom meeting Stage 1 was a relatively easy goal.
Two very challenging areas for Stage 2 for most eligible hospitals (EHs) and eligible professionals (EPs) are the objective “Summary of Care Record at Transitions of Care (ToC)” and those that relate to Public Health reporting.
For these objectives, it is not necessarily the performance thresholds that present the challenge, rather the EHR functional requirements, the requirements-behind-the-requirements, or the workflows that are the cause of consternation. These objectives and their unique challenges are described below:
Summary of Care Record at Transitions of Care (ToC).
This objective is challenging on two fronts. First, the population and generation of the Summary of Care Record (the “Record”), and second, the actual transmission of that document at transitions of care to intended recipients.
Patient engagement strategies proliferate, experts pontificate and lay people ponder, but as we wait for the dust to settle, there are few tangible suggestions that truly claim to guide physicians and practice leaders in the steps to take for actually engaging their patients.
Though meaningful use requirements mandate physicians provide secure messaging and patient portal capabilities as a requirement for attesting, but what can those at the practice level actually do to get patients more involved in their care and foster the spirit of meaningful use?
According to Jason Fortin, senior advisor at Impact Advisors, a healthcare consultancy, there may be some simple, more traditional paths to patient engagement.
For example, other than focusing on creating social media campaigns to drive traffic to sites and brick and mortar practices, “But, they shouldn’t abandon regular mailings and telephone calls to patients,” he said. “Don’t abandon all the arrows in your quiver.”
Essentially, patient engagement can be a long a drawn-out process that requires a great deal of investment. Short-term returns may not be what practices hope for, but they’ll pay off in the long run.
For the time being, patient portals are designed to fill the patient engagement voice. Unfortunately for some, adding one more system to their roster and another log in to track, there’s more likely the chance that unless it provides some sort of concrete benefit, patients may not be interested in pursuing a relationship with their physicians through it.
Real change in regard to patient engagement is most likely a generational issue that we don’t see manifest for several years. If patients (now or in the future) are going to be engaged, whatever the tool used to reach them will most likely have to fit into people’s daily lifestyles.
Patient engagement tools will need to evolve beyond bill pay and appointment setting systems. Most likely, they’ll have to be along the lines of a Facebook or a Twitter.
Fortin says whatever the tool and no matter its capabilities, it needs to “transcend” and impact the population. For any sort of system or technology to work long term it needs to be “integrated into people every day lifestyle otherwise folks are going to have a difficult time maintaining their interest in using it,” Fortin said.
But the traditional vendors, those that produce the patient portals to compliment their electronic health records are not spending their time focusing on innovation and advancing the technological offers to clients, Fortin said. On the contrary, most vendors are mired, or choose to be mired, in the technological requirements of meaningful use.
In this regard, meaningful use is quite singular in its focus and is restricting innovation of new technology.
Until we’re able to develop or capture new technologies to engage patients (I trust the free market will come up with something), healthcare professionals need to come up real and tangible strategies for action items that they can put in place to create an environment where patients feel safe enough to engage.
In the meantime, maybe your fingers should do the talking and a postage stamp can be employed to save the day.