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Why Digital Transformation is Accelerating, and How It Will Impact Hospitals in 2023

As we know, the pandemic has caused a significant disruption throughout the last two years. One result of this disruption has been the rapid acceleration of healthcare digitization due to the immediacy of care needs and consumer preferences. According to a recent McKinsey Global Survey of executives, organizations have accelerated their digitization of the customer experience, supply-chain interactions, and internal operations by three to four years. By fully embracing a digital mindset, health systems can, and have, transformed their relationship with consumers.  

Digital transformation is much more than implementing new technology or automating existing tasks. At its core, digital transformation is about new ways of delivering value. While near-universal adoption of electronic health records has been achieved and organizations have begun to adopt applications for disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), this does not constitute digital transformation – especially while healthcare providers remain focused on the same business and customer models, by in large. 

Over the last few years, health systems have acknowledged the acceleration and focus on consumer agency and activation. As consumers increasingly take charge of their own health decisions, health systems are further aligning digital investments to their overall business strategy—a strategy pivoting to focus on the patient experience. The COVID-19 pandemic significantly altered the status quo of the healthcare industry and further accelerated consumer-facing technologies. Virtual health and care delivered in the home became the model of not only necessity but also preference. But this change was not as sudden as it might have looked. The pandemic has been an accelerator of several trends, including shifting consumer preferences, rapidly evolving technologies, newer talent models, and clinical innovation. With COVID-19, it became necessary to accelerate and leverage consumer technologies that were previously underutilized. And now, there’s no turning back.

The Impact of the Patient-First Approach 

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When it comes to driving true digital transformation throughout hospitals and health systems, many can argue that new circumstances exist today that were not present when the Health Information Technology for Economic Clinical Health Act (HITECH) was enacted, requiring that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) provide incentive payments under Medicare and Medicaid to “Meaningful Users” of Electronic Health Records (EHR). When HITECH was passed as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) in 2009, the iPhone had just celebrated its second birthday. The technology that’s now taken for granted was not nearly as powerful back in 2009, and its originally limited flexibility and adaptability cannot compete with today’s mobile-first, API-driven solutions.

Hindsight is 20:20 though, and while the intention to replace paper charts was well-meaning, the execution of the Meaningful User program was flawed. The first set of standards barely considered the patient, and provider usability was not factored in as a top concern. Billing systems were asked to leverage a fee-for-service approach that was funded by legislation that, in part, was actively looking to replace fee-for-service with a value-based care model. This ensured the system would quickly become outdated. And 15 years later, interoperability is still elusive and it’s impacting the way hospitals interact with each other during patient care and in their partnerships. For example, a recent dissolution of a partnership between two West Virginia hospitals came down to disparate EHRs. This ultimately impacts patient care. 

The Now vs. Then

The world in 2022 is much different than in 2009. The COVID-19 pandemic upended lives for an extended period of time and has proven to be much more disruptive than the financial crash of 2008. Yes, there is also uncertainty now on the economic front with high inflation and the threat of recession. But from a technological perspective, the U.S. healthcare system is much better positioned to seize the opportunity and advance true digital transformation.

Consider the evolving healthcare landscape from HITECH to today:

• Consumerism: Patient satisfaction now impacts reimbursement. While many hospitals collected information on patient satisfaction, the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) created a national standard for collecting and publicly reporting information that enables valid comparisons to be made across all hospitals to support consumer choice. Since 2012, HCAHPS patient satisfaction scores have played a pivotal part in hospital reimbursement through the Hospital Value-Based Purchasing Program. The higher a hospital’s HCAHPS scores, the higher its reimbursements will be. 

• Interoperability: During the second half of 2013, SMART was updated to take advantage of the clinical data models and the application-programming interface described in a new, openly licensed Health Level Seven draft standard called Fast Health Interoperability Resources (FHIR). SMART on FHIR addresses the needs of end users and app developers while providing an open-standards-based platform that aligns with the needs of clinical system vendors. 

•Payment Reform: The healthcare industry evolved from an almost all Fee-for-Service business model to Accountable Care Organizations (ACO), and the development and testing of innovative healthcare payment and service delivery models by the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation (the Innovation Center) aimed to achieve better care for patients, smarter spending, and healthier communities. 

Throughout this same timeframe, technology has continued to advance and shift everyone’s expectations when it comes to accessing and interacting with medical content, from patients to providers and care partners to consumers. Now, the key is: instant access, along with brevity and multimedia. 

When the pandemic hit in the Spring of 2020, a perfect storm was created for the successful emergence and rapid growth of telemedicine. Circumstances necessitated quick adoption of and investment in existing technology that had been largely dormant. Providers far and wide answered the call and implemented virtual care solutions in a matter of weeks. In the words of Bart Demaerschalk, medical director for Mayo’s Center for Connected Care, “the COVID-19 pandemic has essentially accelerated U.S. digital health by about 10 years.” But the public health emergency will not last forever. Payment policies need to be established as provider organizations seek to transform multiple, separate, telemedicine solutions into one new, cohesive hybrid care paradigm. It is these efforts that give hope that true digital transformation is happening and could be just around the corner. 

Looking Ahead to 2023

When discussing digital transformation, most are referring to the digital hospital of the future. It’s more than just using technology. It’s about delivering value to patients and providers. It extends from the ability to self-schedule appointments on the front end to using advanced analytics and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to settle claims on the back end. It’s about leveraging technology to streamline and improve care for all. It’s not about removing the human component but enhancing it by using technology in tandem, at every step, to optimize the experience for all parties. For example, a patient in a bed can use the TV remote control to manage the room lighting or temperature without requesting assistance from a nurse. Or, as a nurse enters a room, the door sign displays critical patient information that will help deliver better care to the patient. On the provider side, the clinician can gain automated assistance with documentation or receive guidance with quality standard compliance. Again, it’s about leveraging technology to develop new ways of providing value – to both the patient and the caregiver.

As 2023 is on the horizon, the desire for a digital transformation will only continue to grow among healthcare systems and patients, alike. While advances in AI, ML, and precision medicine continue to increase, enhancing successful patient outcomes, it’ll remain crucial to further develop value delivery via technology to benefit the patient experience. This includes VideoConnect for unassisted family check-ins of non-responsive patients, repurposing a Digital Door Sign as a Bed Side Child Fun Facts screen for pediatric providers, and other Point of Care IPS Configurations for Exam Rooms, Infusion Centers, EDs, and more. This value-added patient-centric tech will lead to a continually increased focus on comprehensive interactive patient system implementations and the delivery of technology such as physiological hall monitors, nurse station status boards, conference, and auditorium AV solutions. 

Selecting an established, full-service provider with strong relationships across the supply chain offers the luxury of being able to tap into a deep network of hardware and software partners to help create solutions to best meet current needs and also integrate with an existing technology footprint. As more health systems consider new ways to deliver value in a quickly evolving ecosystem, we continue to see the advancing digital transformation. This positive trend will improve care for patients and the long-term health and viability of provider organizations as we move into the new year.

Dave Bennett, CEO of pCare, a leading provider of Patient Engagement solutions for health systems across the country. pCare has served the healthcare industry since 1950 with various solutions, including the 7-time Best in KLAS Interactive Patient Care System or IPS.

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