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Looking Ahead: Disruption in Health IT Will Hasten Positive Outcomes

By David Thawley, CEO of HST Pathways

When I began my career as an Active-Duty Officer in the Air Force decades ago, order and the status quo were the norm. Disruption was not.

Today, the Air Force Medical Service boasts the Disruptive Innovation Program, designed to “harness collective ingenuity by encouraging Airmen to challenge the status quo, and question old ways of doing things with fresh new solutions to elevate the AFMS.”

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I see a parallel between this evolution and the change that needs to occur in health IT, the field in which I now serve.

There are thousands of U.S. health IT companies, with services ranging from electronic medical records to clinical decision support. And yet, there are ongoing challenges with data exchange, standardization, cybersecurity, and other issues. Fewer than 40% of patients offered a patient portal access them more than once or twice a year. Only about half (55%) of all hospitals can send, receive, find, and integrate patient information from outside sources into their EHRs. And many practice management software offerings are still user-unfriendly, time-consuming, or siloed by function. Clearly, the “old ways of doing things” are not working.

My own key learnings from developing and managing software platforms outside of healthcare tell me that, just as the business world went through a technological revolution, health technology is ripe for more disruption to achieve solutions that benefit all stakeholders, from payors to providers to patients.

We need to start with three key areas:

Cross-functionality. Virtually all health management products function for their intended purpose, but many lack seamless cross-functionality – an integrated experience through which users can access all the different tools and information they need easily, in real-time, to work more efficiently.

When practice management software, for example, serves an isolated function like scheduling or billing but does not touch patient engagement, staff cannot optimally work in their intended roles; they spend too much toggling back and forth between disparate programs. No wonder we have high levels of provider and administrative burnout!

Positive disruption requires more than issuing better versions of the same mousetrap. Whether by collaborating, merging, or simply starting over, software and other health IT companies need a laser focus on coordinated interface.

Patient touchpoints. For people seeking care, there is a long road from symptom onset to wellness, especially when that path includes surgical services. Patients already in a vulnerable state must also navigate a host of administrative steps, a process with which they report high levels of frustration with complexity and overlap.

Patients need a one-touch, end-to-end experience across care and coverage, and it should be a standard software offering for surgical and other medical practices. Our ambulatory surgery center (ASC) software solution includes online pre-op admission service; an embedded way for patients to review and pay their financial responsibility prior to their surgery date; and a full-service patient registration process.

Additionally, digital tools must be designed to overcome linguistic, cultural, health literacy and other barriers, factors that keep patients from engagement. A patient who can easily manage the process is a patient who does not need to call the office repeatedly for answers — and a happier patient is a healthier patient.

Tools designed for the health ecosystem of the future. Moving from hard patient files to Electronic Medical Records has been a big lift, but it brings patient safety and system efficiency benefits. The concept seemed revolutionary when first contemplated in the 1970s, but it took almost fifty years until the era of wide adoption in medical practices.  

That means R&D in health technology must contemplate what we will need ten, twenty, and fifty years from now.

Health IT of the future will not only allow medical providers to access medical history, insurance coverage, and financial information, it will provide clinicians with an organic snapshot of real-time health status from shared sources like population health databases, wearables, genetic data, and mobile devices – even socioeconomic and environmental factors. It will incorporate innovations like artificial intelligence, which is already being explored for application in everything from improving patient-physician communication to protecting sensitive health cyberdata. Importantly, systems must be designed to safety and securely move, store, and allow access to massive amounts of data and imaging with lightning speed, for rapid clinical decision-making.

These broad improvements are entirely achievable in health IT, but there is an obligation on the part of those of us in the industry to be audacious in our vision setting and actions to realize them. Just as technological advances disrupted business management and commerce for the better, the “collective ingenuity” of the health IT industry will transform the business and practice of healthcare for millions of Americans.

David Thawley is Chief Executive Officer of HST Pathways, the leader in cloud-based software for ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs).

Healthcare Business Today is a leading online publication that covers the business of healthcare. Our stories are written from those who are entrenched in this field and helping to shape the future of this industry. Healthcare Business Today offers readers access to fresh developments in health, medicine, science, and technology as well as the latest in patient news, with an emphasis on how these developments affect our lives.

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