Roughly 3,000 healthcare stakeholders recently gathered in Chicago for the 2022 Becker’s Health IT + Digital Health + RCM Annual Meeting. Caregility was on site to join the conversation, which focused on “the future of business and clinical technologies” in healthcare. Here we distill what we learned about the health IT trends that were top of mind among health system executives in attendance.
Managing Connected Health
In an industry where the velocity of digital innovation can be difficult to keep pace with, how do healthcare CIOs and technical teams identify best-fit solutions and prioritize IT initiatives?
Clinical and IT leaders from various health systems shared their approach:
- Focus on connected health tools that help manage care for your top utilizers
- Create criteria to assess the seamlessness of integration during evaluations
- Select tools that are scalable over the long term to reduce friction downstream
- Consider the level of support that will be needed beyond implementation
- Quantify the cost of doing things the old way to understand ROI
Health systems reported having as many as 1,500 healthcare applications in use with well over half of those apps being underutilized. Panelist David Reis, Ph.D., CIO at University of Miami Health System, shared that he works with his team to conduct portfolio rationalization monthly to help determine which apps should be optimized versus sunset. He and his team consider two important factors when making those determinations: 1) Does the app pose a cybersecurity threat? 2) Is there an alternative tool with a broader use case scenario? Risk mitigation and resource consolidation are key influencers.
Migrating to the Cloud
As tech infrastructure gets more complex, health systems are partnering with public cloud hyperscalers like AWS and Microsoft to better support burst capacity, real-time computing, and batch processing. Panelist Andrew Rosenberg, MD, EVP and CIO at Michigan Medicine, noted that as modern methods evolve it can be difficult to find experienced technical staff locally. Hyperscalers have the benefit of offering IT teams dedicated expertise in the areas of resiliency and security.
Many health systems simply “want out of the data center business,” as panelist Neal Patel, MD, CIO at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, put it. He feels his organization is better positioned to manage costs with the cloud. “It’s not cheaper, but cloud metering gives us a better process for allocating where the spend is, which allows us to make more judicious budgeting decisions.”
Several sessions at the event touched on lessons learned as telehealth becomes further embedded in care delivery. Health systems are leveraging telehealth to provide clinical reinforcement, take tasks off clinicians’ plates, and free up in-person engagement for patients who need it most. This includes a push to build inpatient telehealth into patient rooms to create capacity in acute settings.
“The workforce is shrinking, and we’re saying, ‘do more,’” said panelist Christine Vanzandbergen, VP of Analytics and Research at Penn Medicine. “Where can we use [telehealth] in lieu of one-on-one care? Who are the people and skills we need?”
Panelist Dave McSwain, MD, CMIO at UNC Health, made a call for reimbursement models that incentivize hybrid care that blends in-person and virtual engagement. “We need to avoid silos and stop talking about telehealth versus in-person care,” McSwain explained. “It’s integrated care versus telehealth-only care versus in-person-only care. Which is honestly probably best?”
With the relatively immature telehealth platform market largely still in growing stages, panelists encouraged health systems to:
- Identify vendor partners willing to let you influence development
- Field proof of concept programs to fine-tune processes and establish baselines prior to broader rollout
- Be mindful of legal issues like privacy, patient consent, and clinician licensure
- Establish a process for virtual care documentation to flow back into the EMR
When assessing success, at a minimum evaluate call responses, downtime, patient feedback or complaints, and utilization. Some health systems are exploring tech centers to ensure patients are comfortable with home health tools.
Where Does it Hurt?
Of the many challenges healthcare organizations are looking to overcome as part of their health IT strategy, staffing shortages were most often cited. “We have to drive an economic bottom line without burning out our team,” said panelist Anthony Moorman, Director of Solution Marketing at Qventus. This means using technology to automate manual steps wherever possible.
Speakers offered unique perspectives on ways to offset workforce hurdles. “Can we do ‘over the shoulder’ nurse guidance for new hires?” posed panelist Meghan Huffman, AVP of Telehealth Field Operations and Programs at HCA Healthcare. There was also a call for digital program reform to modernize clinical education. And as panelist Mohit Bhasin, MD, Medical Director at Sentara Heart Hospital, observed, our industry “doesn’t just lag in tech – we lag in support resources. The majority of nurses are women, yet no one has onsite daycare. We need to mimic other industries.”
Other pain points cited by panelists included:
- Validation and governance of patient-generated data
- The emerging need for “explained AI” or transparency in AI algorithms
- The need for HIPAA, now more than 25 years old, to be rewritten for connected health to ensure we “balance privacy without stifling innovation”
Panelists also encourage peers not to get bogged down in the idea that they are behind. “Shiny object syndrome” and what is picked up by the media “makes you feel like you’re the only health system without all the stuff,” said speaker Michael Saad, SVP and CIO at University of Tennessee Medical Center. “Innovation is different for each health system. Focus on your personal business drivers.”