It’s one thing to state that patient engagement has evolved significantly during the past few years. It’s quite another to point out that methods currently being used to diagnose and treat conditions weren’t even on the radars of most healthcare IT leaders five years ago.
That, however, is precisely what has happened, said Sri Bharadwaj, VP of Digital Innovation at Franciscan Health, during a recent panel discussion. “Our informatics strategy has been completely turned upside down,” he noted. By leveraging capabilities like remote monitoring, physicians can pull data from devices to observe trends, identify potential issues, and, if necessary, intervene. “We have redefined how we engage with patients.”
Of course, there’s still a long way to go before consumerization’s impact on healthcare is fully realized, and a lot of hurdles need to be overcome. During the discussion, Bharadwaj addressed these points along with Dick Taylor, MD, Chief Clinical Informatics Officer at BJC Healthcare, and Hersh Goel, MD, Clinical Affairs Lead, Integrated Patient Management with Philips.
“Snippets of data”
One of those hurdles — perhaps the most daunting, in fact — is achieving digital maturity. According to Bharadwaj, that means not just being able to collect data, but also ensuring it’s accessible and actionable. Users should be able to pull it up at their convenience, and in the format of their choice, whether it’s a text message, an Excel spreadsheet or Epic Hyperspace. “What makes it actionable are snippets of data at the point of care to help guide decisions,” he noted.
Data also must be sustainable over the long-term — something that has proven to be an uphill battle across the entire industry, according to Taylor. “We have pockets of relatively mature data usage and data acquisition, and we have pockets where there’s a lot of opportunity.” And although he believes the health system overall strives to be data-driven, the goal is still an elusive one.
One reason for that? The tendency to utilize metrics solely for year-over-year comparisons. “We need to tighten that loop and say, ‘Never mind how we did last year. Tell me how we did yesterday.’ Tell me how we did on the things that matter — not just overall patient satisfaction goals, but how many people had to wait to see their doctor yesterday, and how long did they have to wait? That can feed into data-driven adjustments that are more likely to be effective and sustained.”
A new look
There has been perhaps no better opening to tighten that loop than the past 7 months. At many organizations, including BJC, strategies were quickly created and rolled out, whether that meant reconfiguring rooms, reconfiguring EHRs, or making major structural changes. “Covid-19 taught organizations like ours how fast we could move if we had to,” noted Taylor.
It also presented a new set of roadblocks in terms of managing the vast amounts of heterogeneous data being collected, and presenting a unified view for clinicians.
Bharadwaj agreed, adding that the pandemic has signaled a tipping point for digital health. “It has forced us to really look at data, whether we were ready or not. It has forced us as an industry to look at how we’re going to take the data and use it effectively.”
At Franciscan Health, that has meant using data to better understand trends in bed capacity and triage capabilities, and making decisions based on that information. It may not seem groundbreaking, but in healthcare, it marks a big step forward, he noted. “Covid hasn’t just had an impact; it’s been transformational in how we look at data.”
How to sustain the digital infrastructure when the patient is not the product
The real test, however, will be whether the industry can continue the momentum going forward. When the pandemic hit — causing elective procedures and appointments to be cancelled — organizations turned to digital tools to enable care continuity, according to Goel. Where it could get tricky is in creating and maintaining an infrastructure that can store all of the data.
“When you look at the digital economy more broadly, the individual and their information is the product. In healthcare, that’s not the case,” he noted. “We need to figure out how we’re going to sustain the digital infrastructure when the patient is not the product.”
Bharadwaj concurred, adding that consumers are apt to share data with companies like Apple, which provide information based on trends. “That’s going to change the way we think, and it’s going to change the way we perform — if we do it right.”
For BJC, doing it right means viewing digital engagement as the new gold standard. The objective, according to Taylor, is to “deal with consumers before and after [the care encounter] in a way that makes them feel engaged; not just a victim of the technology, but a participant in their own care.” His team has “doubled down” on efforts to engage with patients and families more broadly and collaboratively than in the past, which in turn can position the organization for success in the future.
In fact, Goel believes it will do just that.
“Patient engagement is an increasingly important aspect of our customers’ digital strategies,” he noted. “I think it’s a logical extension to say that we can address some of the biggest problems in healthcare by leveraging digital technology.”
The key is in approaching digital maturity not as a goal in and of itself, but as “a tool to enable a healthier society,” Goel said. “That has to be an intentional view that we have as we design these technologies.”
To view the archive of this webinar — Digital Transformation: Is Your Data Actionable Enough to Lead the Journey (Sponsored by Philips) — please click here.