How COVID-19 created a new patient mindset and drove a new business model

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By John Reeves

The healthcare industry has been challenged by COVID-19 and how to respond to the pandemic. 

What isn’t being addressed is how technology is limiting the industry’s ability to operate optimally. Old technology infrastructure and architectures make it difficult to modify patient services, reduce payment processing time and costs, adhere to compliance requirements, and more. 

This sluggish response stems from a lack of visibility into and understanding of the patient’s data. Without this knowledge, data can’t go where it needs to go as quickly as it needs to and the current pandemic exacerbates this deficit. The care models are becoming completely upended as patients expectations change in realtime and what they can expect from their healthcare providers evolves with them. 

COVID-19 is changing what success looks like for healthcare as a business. 

The old ideas and ways of delivering care, like a single annual visit, are now often infeasible. Though we anticipated this change eventually, COVID-19 accelerated in  distinct ways. 

The pandemic triggered a rush of people coming into the hospitals to be served by teams that often had little or no insight into their patients current medical history. Data may have been there to provide background on the patient, but it wasn’t easy to find or analyze given the aging architetures.  . This slowed patient care and processing. To make matters worse, they were confronted with a new virus. One that seemed to be evolving rapidly.

There has been a telehealth surge.  Patients are no longer tied to their primary healthcare providers (a trend in the ever-growing trend in mobility of the patient) and also in-office visits may not be safe.  Also there is a rise in the demand for greater customer service and an enjoyable experience. A perfect storm to be sure.  This underscores an overall shift in the patient mindset. Not only do they want better experiences online or in person, they also want hospitals and clinics to provide more meaningful, actionable insights from their personal health data—this is a natural expectation due to the exposure from other social media experiences. 

So the pandemic has pushed more experiences to online, virtual and all things outside the traditional care settings. For years, limited funding and inflexible technology constrained Healthcare IT. So as patients demand answers quickly about COVID-19, new telehealth processes and the status of their conditions, staff waste hours manually responding to questions  trying to find answers. Healthcare organizations need to pivot quickly and effectively. If it can arm nurses and doctors with better information and give healthcare organizations  better value that yield higher outcomes — it can help them improve lives. 

Healthcare organizations are businesses. They need to use data to make informed decisions about whats working and to find and grow new service areas. An average of 52% of all data stored by businesses worldwide isn’t being utilized. Instead of providing important insights the data is locked away in different departments or facilities — whether that’s financial, administrative or research driven.

Many healthcare organizations believe artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning (ML) might help them through  this crisis. However, AI and ML rely heavily on data and context, and trying to implement them could prove to be a bridge too far without the appropriate platform or data pipeline in place. Data needs to be harvested in the proper context. A enterprise data pipeline approach allows for that.

Without access to data in context, healthcare organizations can’t answer questions  about what their patients care most about? Without answers to the right questions, their business or care models may   grow stale. In order to change this trajectory data needs to be evaluated across the organization. 

The right tech unlocks data and allows healthcare organizations to quickly pivot and grow.

Healthcare’s IT journey with the patient really started in many ways with the electronic health record portal, but its success didn’t live up even to the initial hype. It was static, based on history — at best it is a reporting or messaging tool. If the right data can flow as fluid as in a pipeline, healthcare organizations could leverage patient data to do everything from message patients in real-time and alert medical professionals of important updates, to guide patients to the best or healthiest choices.

COVID-19 has underscored the gaps in the current data architectures; and Healthcare IT needs to accommodate more than the most common patient data. Every day, there’s more data that patients are capturing outside of the hospital visit. They’re attending telehealth sessions, visiting independent labs and testing facilities, monitoring their health with digital devices, and more. 

All this information can build more opportunities for healthcare, whether that’s in terms of better customer service, research, or otherwise. Proper governance and data-streams can enhance the relationship amongst the datasets and the data owners, enable AI or natural language interactions and accelerate the adoption of ML and more. It will lead to higher value outcomes sooner. 

It is likely that the new business model for healthcare will be one of continuous improvement and change.  It has been stagnant too long.  Healthcare organizations need flexibility in their IT architectures to accommodate new revenue streams, customer experiences, evidence-based models and more. We don’t know what the final architetures look like but we know it will have to be agile and accomodating.

Each patient is going to have different needs, different illnesses. They’re going to require different rates for reimbursements and care plans. In order to care for those patients with the level of customer service they now expect, healthcare needs to embrace accessing data for an integrated experience. 

The kinds of data healthcare organizations need at a drop of a hat will continue to increase exponentially, from a patients’ genetic information to their socioeconomic or environmental factors..Once this composite is accessible, healthcare organizations can learn how to best pivot their business in times of crisis or the next naturally occurring event — not only to rejuvenate their revenue stream, but to care for their clients better. The physical clinical practices are no longer the center of the healthcare universe. They are part of a patient’s  ecosystem of Health and Wellness. 

Though COVID-19 may accelerate this change, it’s happening now in plain sight. Whether its COVID-19 and its ability to exacerbate underlying pre-existing conditions and create a new classification of “long-haulers” or supporting wellness efforts of existing patients with chronic diseases not yet burdened with a COVID-19 diagnosis —the data is no longer all collected in a single appointment or lab visit. The individual may be keeping a food journal, tracking their insulin, counting their steps— All of this data needs to be incorporated into caring for the patient. It needs to be sent to the correct care givers, nutritionists, or sent to research teams. This is where the pipeline thinking helps.

How can you take the next step forward in care and your business model if your IT infrastructure and architecture isn’t ready for it? 

John Reeves is a Healthcare Evangelist with Boomi, a Dell Technologies business.

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