Most likely, in one of the few lucid moments you have in your hectic, even chaotic schedule you contemplate healthcare’s greatest problems, its most pressing questions that must be solved, obstacles and the most important hurdles that must be overcome, and how doing so would alleviate many of your woes. That’s likely an overstatement. The problems are many, some of the obstacles overwhelming.
There are opportunities, of course. But opportunities often come from problems that must be solved. And, as the saying goes, for everyone you ask, you’re likely to receive a different answer to what needs to be first addressed. So, in this series (see part 1 and part 3), we examine some of healthcare’s most pressing challenges, according to some of the sector’s most knowledgeable voices.
Without further delay, the following are some of the problems in need of solutions. Or, in other words, some of healthcare’s greatest opportunities. What is healthcare’s most pressing question, problem, hurdle, obstacle, thing to overcome? And how that can be solved/addressed?
Lynn Carroll, chief of strategy & operations, HSBlox
Preventable medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the U.S., and frequently can be linked to inaccurate patient data, according to a study by Johns Hopkins University. Machine learning should be used to solve patient-matching challenges by analyzing and consolidating patient data from multiple systems, such as EHRs, medical charts, e-prescribing technologies, clinical documentation solutions and revenue cycle management platforms, and by creating longitudinal patient records that can be transparently shared among the patient’s care team, optimizing care coordination. The patient-matching solution is then combined with blockchain to disseminate the relevant patient data to all parties who have permission to view it.
Extending care coordination beyond the hospital walls heavily burdens providers and healthcare administrators. As the industry continues to shift from fee-for-service to value-based care, optimizing care teams to address social determinants of health and drive patient engagement is paramount. Today’s health systems must leverage an agile workforce and intuitive technology to deliver 360-degree patient-centered care.
Dr. Samant Virk, physician, founder and CEO, MediSprout
As a practicing physician for the last 15 years, I had a growing frustration with the fact that more than 70 percent of my time was consumed by administrative tasks that took away from my ability to help patients. The biggest challenge of healthcare right now is that we’ve lost touch with that physician and patient connection. Question: How can we reconnect physicians with patients — tech has driven a wedge between us and it’s time to fix this. Doctors would love to spend more time with the patients that need them the most while getting paid for follow-up care and communications that eats up their day. We believe that technology is the solution here.
Healthcare must shift its focus from viewing patients as “customers” and instead consider patients as “partners” within the broader healthcare ecosystem. All of the exciting innovation underway (including the increased adoption of virtual care and telehealth) should reflect what is required for the patient/partner to better manage his/her healthcare throughout the care continuum. To solve for healthcare that is truly consumer-centric, the broader healthcare ecosystem needs to identify the best investments to make which will drive quicker and better outcomes for the individual consumer (e.g., the patient/partner), overall population health, healthcare professionals, and healthcare organizations.
Price transparency for the Employers and the patient. The explanation of benefits (EOB) does not contain real financial payments between the payer and the provider. The real numbers are considered proprietary. A patient nor employer benefit plan cannot control their healthcare costs if they do not know how much was paid and for what service. At a grocery store, each item is tagged with the name of the product and the price. In healthcare the service and or product is not presented to the patient prior to the receipt of service and the services are not itemized on the bill. What to do? Make is illegal for payers and providers to have proprietary payments on healthcare goods and services.
The most pressing problem for US healthcare is improving quality of care while reducing cost. Intelligently leveraging clinical information — for predictive analytics, precision medicine, population health analytics and other analytic purposes — is critical to solving this problem. The largest impediment to actionable analytics is dirty clinical data entered by more than four million clinicians into more than one hundred certified EHRs resulting in a clear and present need for scalable technology to normalize, de-duplicate and enrich clinical data so that data scientists can spend more time identifying actionable insights from data, and less time fixing clinical data.
I see our shortage of primary care physicians as the biggest challenge the American healthcare system faces over the next 20 years. PCPs are crucial to the patient experience, and preventative care that can help drive value. Tied to this is my concern is the lack of investment/acceleration in technology designed to improve physician experience and utilization. PCPs spend way too much time entering data when there are opportunities like voice assisted scribe or authentication that reduce data entry and allows them to spend more time completely focused on patients providing quality care.
While telehealth has been around for years, virtual care technology is emerging as a powerful tool that goes beyond the traditional telehealth model. What will it take to reach the tipping point of virtual care adoption?
To become the “next generation” of telehealth, virtual care will need to improve access, availability, application, and acceptance considerations. Virtual care is poised to be embraced by the healthcare ecosystem, helping to optimize satisfaction and outcomes for all.
Timing is everything in critical care situations. Providers need instant access to specialists who can make vital diagnoses and decisions on-demand. Virtual care technology enables specialists to provide an immediate consult via video and ensure that patient questions and emerging conditions are addressed. Remote video-based consults allow a specialist to examine and diagnose the patient in real time, regardless of the specialist’s location. Virtual care will move into the mainstream as more providers (whether at a healthcare facility or home health agency) realize they can obtain timely answers, prevent return trips to the ED, and minimize readmissions. Smaller and rural hospitals will be able to strengthen their role in the community by using virtual care to access offsite, specialized staff. The time-to-treatment will be reduced; providers will not need to waste precious minutes attempting to contact available specialists. And, specialists can provide the needed consult via video, without needing to rush to the patient’s bedside.
Many patients fail to follow up with their provider for post-discharge care. No-shows may result when a patient is unable to leave his/her residence due to a medical condition. Some patients are unable to secure reliable, timely, and/or affordable transportation to a follow-up appointment. Virtual care will improve the standard of care by providing patients with more convenient, comfortable, and cost-effective access to follow-up care. Once out of the hospital or nursing facility, a patient can participate in virtual visits on commodity devices such as tablets and smartphones.
Healthcare organizations typically pilot the use of virtual care in one department, with one use-case or for a specific patient population, before rolling out the technology across a facility, health system, and/or health plan’s member base. Organizations may hesitate to expand virtual care across departments if they anticipate the implementation may be disruptive to their current processes. However, virtual care technology is designed to complement (and even automate) current workflows. Providers jump on the virtual care bandwagon when they realize that the application factors in a patient’s choice of communication devices (e.g., tablet, smartphone, and computer) and language. Because the technology features the ability to include interpreters in a video call and also provide messaging in the patient’s primary/preferred language, more healthcare organizations will accelerate the deployment of virtual care as they can now engage all patients in their care and across any level of connectivity.
In urgent care situations, being able to provide timely and quality healthcare is essential to the impact and satisfaction of the ED staff and related EMS team members. Using telehealth, current ED workflows can be enhanced to increase access and make collaboration between onsite providers and offsite colleagues and specialists easier and more timely. Virtual care platforms can rapidly improve the delivery of care, effectively addressing urgent patient needs while reconciling the gap in having available specialists on-hand / in-person for immediate consults. Virtual consults are a viable and valuable solution to helping improve outcomes in emergent care situations.
Providing Critical Care On-Demand in the ED
Seconds and minutes count in the ED. With a virtual care platform, a hospital’s ED staff can quickly access remote specialists and facilitate a virtual consult between offsite specialists and patients. Instead of losing crucial minutes, hours, or even critical days in the ED to call a specialist or wait for an in-person consult, ED staff can quickly reach the first available, designated specialist who can deliver a timely virtual consult and provide guidance as to diagnosis, admission, and/or transfer. With virtual care technology, specialists can provide the needed consult from anywhere and on any device. Key decisions as to whether the patient needs to be admitted, transferred or discharged can be made in minutes (vs. hours or days). The costs involved with keeping a patient in the ED are also contained, and the hours or days which a patient spends in the ED are reduced. As hospitals struggle to have multiple specialists on-hand at any time, virtual consult platforms can empower hospitals to leverage specialists within their networks to support their patient care objectives around-the-clock.
Reducing Waiting Time and Minimizing Leakage in the ED
Virtual care platforms are also being used to reduce waiting times in the ED and deliver routine care to patients with non-emergent conditions. In a recent study published in Telemedicine and e-Health, rural hospitals using telehealth reduced the time between patients entering the ED to receiving physician care, according to University of Iowa researchers.
Virtual care had decreased door-to-provider time by six minutes. The researchers also concluded that the length of stay in the ED of the initial hospital was shorter for patients who were eventually transferred but had initially participated in a virtual care consultation. At New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medicine, the Express Care program allows patients with minor injuries or non-life-threatening symptoms to be seen virtually by an offsite provider via video. When asked by the Wall Street Journal, “What’s the number one complaint of patients in the emergency room?” Rahul Sharma, the emergency physician-in-chief at Weill Cornell, responded: “Wait time.”
The hospital reported that the Express Care telehealth program has cut the average wait time in the hospital’s ED by more than half; between 35 to 40 minutes. As hospitals struggle to prevent leakage and minimize the chance of patients leaving their ED waiting room for another healthcare setting, virtual consults can help the waiting patients access the diagnoses and care they need in a more timely and convenient manner.
Expanding Impact into the Community
ED staff can also use virtual care platforms to expand their impact within their respective communities. Rural hospitals face some of the biggest deficits in terms of having a range of specialists on staff. Providers in these hospitals can have access to a greater pool of specialists who can support urgent patient care via video when a particular specialist is not already on staff or readily available in-person. Giving ED staff the ability to facilitate virtual consults on-demand improves their impact within their own community – regardless of distance between the ED and the specialist. ED staff can also conduct HIPAA-compliant virtual meetings to drive better collaboration amongst the broader care team across the care continuum. Communication can be maintained with the appropriate care team members (including the patient’s PCP, a pharmacist, a coordinator at the next care facility, etc.) to ensure the patient’s overall health needs are regularly discussed and addressed in the ED and during the transition of care – without requiring care team members to drive to/from meetings at different locations and facilities.