By Lisa Esch, chief of strategy, innovation and provider industry solutions, NTT DATA Services.
The current state of our healthcare system is in disarray. Healthcare organizations are overworked and understaffed as they deal with the ongoing pandemic resulting in half of all healthcare workers reporting they’ve experienced burnout during this time.
Technology has the potential to solve these challenges, and as more digital health options become available, healthcare practitioners are using more tools that allow them to work more quickly and better serve patients.
Unfortunately, most health technology is developed in a vacuum creating silos of critical information inaccessible and unconnected in caring for patients. Disjointed and disconnected services result in key pieces of information not being available at the time and place required, and productivity can be impacted when healthcare practitioners have to navigate multiple source systems to retrieve data. In turn, this impacts the number of patients that can be seen in a given period and can potentially put human lives on the line if medically critical data is inaccessible in an emergency.
The healthcare community is beginning to embrace a solution to this problem: interoperability. Let’s explore what this means for healthcare providers and why it’s so important in the disorganized, digital healthcare system of 2022.
What’s healthcare interoperability? Why does it matter?
Interoperability services and tools bridge the gap between incompatible systems and data sets, providing a more seamless experience for both patient and provider. It has two primary definitions:
The COVID-19 pandemic has been the catalyst for accelerating many changes in the healthcare industry, hastening new innovations and putting a national spotlight on the need to improve care, vital health infrastructure, and transparency in how data is collected, stored and used.
Many experts believe 2021 will be the year of patient controlled-health and digital-first care, as consumers at-large shift from needing telehealth, virtual care and digital wellness tools to fully embracing them as part of their lives. These changes, born out of necessity, are poised to pervade all aspects of care and impact stakeholders across the industry. From doctors incorporating smart watches and apps into routine care to a complete overhaul of data practices and a renewed emphasis on price transparency, we’re in store for some sweeping changes in the year ahead.
Despite its incredible tragedy, the pandemic has brought to light many challenges the industry has been facing for years and forced us to address them head-on, with the hope that this year will bring solutions to those problems to light, as well. Electronic Health Reporter talked to 11 industry experts to get their thoughts on what’s to come. Here’s what they had to say:
2021 will be the year of patient controlled-health – Dr. Salvatore Viscomi, Chief Medical Officer,GoodCell
The COVID-19 pandemic brought the realities of a global-scale health event – and our general lack of preparedness to address it – to the forefront. People are now laser focused on how they can protect themselves and their families against the next inevitable threat. On top of this, social distancing and isolation accelerated development and use of digital health tools, from wellness trackers to telehealth and virtual care, most of which can be accessed from the comfort of our homes. The convergence of these two forces is poised to make 2021 the year for patient-controlled health, whereby health decisions are not dictated by – but rather made in consultation with – a healthcare provider, leveraging insights and data pulled from a variety of health technology tools at people’s fingertips.
Knowing your susceptibility profile will become part of the standard of care – Trevor Perry, Founder and CEO,GoodCell
While the pandemic is turning our concept of vulnerability on its head, knowing your susceptibility profile will become part of the standard of care. We’ve witnessed otherwise healthy people succumb to the virus or experience long-term ramifications as a result of infection. This is changing people’s expectations around routine care and creating renewed interest among patients to know potential health challenges and have greater control on actions you can take to approach those challenges. We’ll witness tangible steps in 2021 toward democratizing these data and their ability to inform proactive care and disease management.
Healthcare and wellness will be inextricably linked post-pandemic – Dr. Salvatore Viscomi, Chief Medical Officer,GoodCell
Economic uncertainty, childcare concerns, burnout at work and social isolation, among many other factors, has brought stress and its impacts to the forefront of the health care conversation. Normally, society has served as an alleviating force, with evenings out and vacations offering a respite from work and home stressors. With those comforts stripped away, people are finding it harder to simply “get by.” 2021 will see an even greater emphasis placed on sleep, mindfulness and other mental health strategies. Subsequently, we’re poised to see an uptick in adoption of the digital tools and services helping people manage these areas of their lives and general wellness, as people strive for a sense of control amid so much uncertainty.
Data will help signal value-based care as the future of health plan offering – Kris Fitzgerald, CTO, NTT DATA Services
Quality metrics for health plans – like data that measures performance – was turned on its head in 2020 due to delayed procedures. In the coming year, we will see a lot of plans interpret these delayed procedures flexibly so they honor their plans without impacting providers. However, for so long, the payer’s use of data and the provider’s use of data has been disconnected. Moving forward the need for providers to have a more specific understanding of what drives the value and if the cost is reasonable for care from the payer perspective is paramount. Data will ensure that this collaboration will be enhanced and the concept of bundle payments and aligning incentives will be improved. As the data captured becomes even richer, it will help people plan and manage their care better. The addition of artificial intelligence (AI) to this data will also play a huge role in both dialog and negotiation when it comes to cost structure. This movement will lead to a spike in value-based care adoption.
Healthcare professionals will embrace digital tools as part of their assessments and guidance to patients – Dr. Salvatore Viscomi, Chief Medical Officer,GoodCell
Acceleration of telehealth and personal health devices, a trial-by-fire of their capabilities through wide-scale adoption, has increased comfort levels with these concepts and reliance on these tools. This also goes for medical professionals themselves. 2021 will see healthcare professionals getting more comfortable with these data, and factoring wearables and at-home testing kits into their assessments and guidance to patients.
In the age of data democratization, companies must prove they deserve our data – Craig Eisler, Chief Technology Officer,GoodCell
Perceptions of medical data will shift dramatically in 2021, motivated by increased awareness of consumers’ medical information and how it’s shared. The pandemic has brought medical research into the public eye like never before. It has also left many wanting to know more about their own health and how their medical data could be used to help others. However, an inherent lack of trust in companies’ abilities to keep data safe remains an industry-wide challenge. In the coming year, health and health technology companies will not only have to demonstrate they are deserving of people’s data, but also communicate the value that data can provide for the greater good if they are able to access it.
Covid-19 will continue to compromise patient data, setting back efforts to fight the virus – Theresa Kushner, Senior Director of Data Intelligence and Automation, NTT DATA Services
COVID-19 is an assault on privacy in the absence of data governance. Privacy regulations and protections of personal health data have been thrown out the window, along with the pandemic response playbook, as the public sector and healthcare industry scramble to aggregate as much data as they can on COVID-19 through personal health records and contact tracing – rendered as public information. Similar to other crises in history, regulation, privacy and governance fall by the wayside during reconnaissance. I believe the lack of regulation and governance around healthcare data will result in setbacks to overcoming the virus in the next several months, not to mention that it’s compromising patient data.
Elective services will return – but they’ll be competitive – Kyle Raffaniello, CEO of Sapphire Digital
Healthcare shopping activity for elective services will increase in 2021 as patients begin to feel more comfortable re-entering medical settings. The desire to shop around for these services and research costs ahead of time will also increase given the financial impact of the pandemic on many Americans’ wallets. According to a recent study, 68% of U.S. adults report that they would research costs of health care procedures prior to going for care if there was an easy way to view the total medical cost for the procedure or their personal out-of-pocket costs. Spreading awareness of the resources available to compare care services will be vital to helping patients choose and receive high-value care in the new year.
2021 is a clear year for healthcare price transparency – Kyle Raffaniello, CEO of Sapphire Digital
Over the past year, healthcare price transparency has been a key topic for the Trump administration in an effort to lower healthcare costs for Americans. In recent months, COVID-19 has made the topic more important to patients than ever before. Starting in January, we can expect the incoming Biden administration to not only support the existing federal transparency regulations, but also continue to push for more transparency and innovation within Medicare. I anticipate that healthcare price transparency will continue its momentum in 2021 as one of two Price Transparency rules takes effect and the Biden administration supports this movement.”
Consolidation of digital healthcare companies can’t stop, won’t stop – Kyle Raffaniello, CEO of Sapphire Digital
This year has seen the consolidation of digital healthcare companies as new entrants look to move into and expand within healthcare. Big names like Amazon, Google, and Apple, have begun taking on larger roles in patients’ lives and in the healthcare industry. This shift is likely to accelerate in 2021 as patients view their health as a more holistic part of their lives and look for tools that support them in every step of their healthcare journey.
From Economic Hardship Emerges Patient-First, Digital Based Care — Dr. Justin Graham, Chief Medical Officer, GYANT
The rapid development of a COVID-19 vaccine is a monumental achievement, but it does nothing to address our extremely fragmented healthcare system. In 2021, policy makers must create and extend incentives to providers to work together to keep patients healthy rather than maximize profit. The pandemic has devastated the traditional fee-for-service budgets of many healthcare systems, and it isn’t clear they will ever be able to catch up without additional federal or local funding, or succeeding with radically different business models. Fortunately, this time of difficult budget decisions and value-based care models coincides with an explosion in growth of digital health tools that are being readily embraced by patients that are happy to see healthcare providers adopt technology familiar to them in other settings. This convergence of demand for technology and innovation by health systems and patients will enable providers to be able to reach new populations while continuing to serve their communities that have been impacted by the pandemic.
By Karen Way, global practice lead for data and intelligence, NTT DATA Services.
A recent study conducted by NTT DATA Services and Oxford Economics highlighted the top three challenges identified by healthcare executives and consumers: standardizing and sharing of data across the healthcare spectrum, preparing for and adapting to regulatory changes and recruiting or retaining the right resources. It’s understandable that these challenges rise to the top of the list, as trying to meet rising consumer demands for access to their healthcare data while maintaining regulatory compliance with limited resources is a bit like juggling raw eggs. If your timing or skills are just a bit off, you end up with egg on your face.
How can a healthcare organization address these challenges? First, it’s important to understand exactly which challenges are present within your own organization, and how they are impacting the patient experience.
Study results showed that only 24 percent of healthcare organizations share data across the business. Why? There are several reasons:
Interoperability – Even though this concern has been expressed since the inception of the EHR/EMRs, there are still barriers to being able to communicate data between different systems in a consumable, usable format. For example, several years ago, I had a CT scan due to the sudden onset of a continuous migraine headache. After the scan, I was referred to a neurologist that practiced out of another hospital system. I took a copy of the scan (on a DVD) to my specialist appointment, but the doctor was unable to view it on her system. As a result, I had to have another CT scan for the neurologist to see what may have been happening. Data already collected could not be used due to lack of standardization across systems. As noted in Dr. Eric Topol’s book Deep Medicine, “Your ATM card works in Outer Mongolia, but your electronic health record can’t be used in a different hospital across the street.”
Data Volume – The volume of data being generated daily in the healthcare industry has been estimated to be approximately 30 percent of the world-wide total. With the estimates of data generation rates of at approximately 2.5 quintillion (that’s 1, followed by 30 zeros) bytes/day, that’s a lot of healthcare related data. Healthcare organizations aren’t even beginning to tap the depths of this data, simply due to the data volume.
Disparate Data – Like patients, healthcare data comes in many different shapes, sizes and languages. Even if interoperability issues didn’t exist, sharing of data across the healthcare business is hard because of these differences. Data can be an image, a PDF, a written note, a prescription label, etc. Historically, each type of data requires different mechanisms for managing it, often using different tools or systems.
These three factors combined can be overwhelming for healthcare organizations whose main goal is to provide the best healthcare possible.
Another leading challenge identified in the study is that of recruiting and retaining skilled resources. Of the healthcare executives surveyed, only 51 percent stated that they were able to recruit and retain resources with the required skills and knowledge. There are two components to this issue:
Upskilling resources – With the continual advancements in technology, it is important to ensure that resources can take advantage of training opportunities and professional growth. This is often a delicate balance for organizations; time spent in training is often seen as time away from projects with deadlines.
Healthcare experience – While there may be a pool of qualified resources with the required technical skills, it can be hard to find resources with knowledge and/or experience in the healthcare sector. For example, several years ago, a client brought in resources to support their enterprise data warehouse that had extensive experience in data warehousing. There were high expectations of new and improved functionality due to the technical depth of these resources. Unfortunately, the project did not deliver as expected. Why? None of the resources had knowledge of healthcare data or business processes. One resource posed the question to the client: “what is a healthcare claim?”
Just as important as reviewing the patient experience for ways technology can solve the problem, it helps to treat your workforce like your customer and improve the experience of transforming the organization into a digital-first enterprise. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal highlights the difficulty in recruiting resources and approaches to solving this challenge. The article also reinforces that in today’s data economy, it is no longer enough that a resource be technically skilled, they must also have knowledge of the business environment in which they are applying the technology.
NTT DATA Services announces that it has acquired Cognosante Consulting, LLC, the consulting division of Cognosante. Cognosante Consulting provides IT strategy, planning, quality assurance and project management for state HHS agencies undergoing large-scale Medicaid and related human services IT and business transformation programs. The company has nearly three decades of experience working with 48 states and the federal government, developing, managing, and executing large, complex health information technology implementations.
As a result of the acquisition, NTT DATA Services will add more than 250 specialized consulting resources, as well as intellectual property currently supporting IT transformations, including those specific to Medicaid in more than 20 states.
“The acquisition of Cognosante’s consulting practice immediately establishes us as a leader in a growing health and human services market and enhances the value we can deliver to our clients in the public sector and healthcare,” said Bob Pryor, CEO, NTT DATA Services. “This acquisition is the latest in our ongoing strategy of growth by strategic acquisitions that augment our specialized industry expertise and geographical presence.”
“Cognosante Consulting has built an unmatched reputation supporting IT projects for state HHS departments and other state agencies. Combining our team with the resources and expertise of NTT DATA will enhance our ability to serve clients as they continue to modernize their IT systems to support business transformation,” said Jim Joyce, general manager of Cognosante’s consulting practice, who will continue to lead the organization and serve as senior vice president with NTT DATA Services. “As states revamp their legacy systems and business models, there is significant opportunity for NTT DATA. We are excited to be part of their long-term strategy to support successful state IT implementations.”
As part of NTT DATA Services, the consulting practice will be focused on client IT strategy, project management, quality assurance and Independent Verification and Validation services.
“Cognosante Consulting has been one of the building blocks of Cognosante,” said Michele Kang, founder and CEO of Cognosante. “We are extremely proud of what we have accomplished for our clients, while also increasing both top line revenue and the number of employees by about 500 percent since 2010. This growth of scope and reach, however, began to create conflicts with Cognosante’s core business, requiring us to look for divestiture opportunities.
“We could not have found a more perfect home than NTT DATA Services to align with Cognosante Consulting’s overall mission and company culture. Both Cognosante Consulting clients and employees will benefit tremendously from this combination. We are confident NTT DATA Services will take Cognosante Consulting to the next level while Cognosante continues to focus on its core mission of transforming the nation’s healthcare through innovative technology and solutions.”
From faster diagnosis to enhancing operations across care management, compliance and accounting, artificial intelligence (AI) is revolutionizing the healthcare landscape. While AI is not a new concept, its adoption in the healthcare industry has lagged behind because of significant changes in technology and the exponential growth of data. AI has tremendous application for healthcare, but leaders will need to balance data management and governance to properly enhance the patience experience and outcomes through AI implementation.