Broad use of health information technology (HIT) has resulted in an increased sharing of patient information and other data electronically. Increased usage of HIT has the potential to improve the safety of patients, the quality of care, and how data is collected. It may also lead to a reduction in healthcare costs and increased efficiency. Despite the benefits, there are some up front challenges associated with implementing and managing HIT tools.
The 2016 American College of Healthcare Executives’ (ACHE), Top Issues Confronting Hospitals Survey, indicated that financial challenges remain the greatest concern for hospital CEOs. Healthcare industry leaders are analyzing their organization’s financial strategy and seeking innovative ways to improve operational performance and efficiency, while becoming more cost-effective. The survey also revealed that growing personnel shortages were also among the top concerns, reinforcing the necessity of comprehensive talent management solutions to recruit and retain employees. The survey ranked the top 10 areas of concern as follows:
1. Financial Challenges
2. Governmental Mandates
3. Patient Safety and Quality
4. Personnel shortages
5. Patient satisfaction
6. Access to Care
7. Physician-hospital relations
8. Population health management
10. Reorganization (Mergers, Acquisitions, Partnerships, and Restructuring)
Although technology was #9 on the list, for many healthcare professionals it is at the top of their priorities. Technology and finance concerns coincide because consideration should be taken as to the necessity of the new technology, whether the high up front costs are worth the investment, and how it will be paid for. Investing in new technology tools may be costly upfront, but according to data from the National Center for Policy Analysis(NCPA), the long-term potential savings is as high as $78 billion dollars annually.
The problem in the past was that although healthcare providers could receive subsidies through the HITECH Act, those subsidies were not always enough to offset the high upfront investment costs. This prevented many smaller providers from acquiring robust technology systems. Now that healthcare organizations have begun implementing and utilizing technologies in greater numbers, privacy, security, and compliance concerns have become more apparent.
Mr. William J. Roberts, Esq. Health Law Attorney and Chair of Privacy and Data Protection Group, believes that: “Hospitals will continue to face mounting challenges (and opportunities) with respect to the adoption and implementation of health care IT. Hospitals maintain a significant amount of personal, sensitive data on patients and modern healthcare requires two aims, which are at times competing: safeguarding the data and disclosing the data with medical device companies, payers, government aggregaters and other providers to provide better patient care. The proper implementation of the technology holds great promise for future care, but hospitals will face issues of the costs associated with such technology (one reason mergers are more common) and the privacy/regulatory risks of errors and breaches.” Additional concerns cited by Mr. Roberts were:
- Increased emphasis on outcome based measures
- Pressure from government payers as we shift from a fee-for-service to a value-based, performance pay model
- Employers with self-funded plans seeking more cost efficient options for employees
Similar to Mr. Roberts, Dr. Linda Harpole, Chief Medical Officer at SAS, has some concerns about the widespread implications of using EHRs and other emerging technologies due to the increased risk of data breaches. She points out that as technology continues to evolve and become more mainstream, healthcare leaders must take the necessary steps to ensure that confidential data remains secure.
Dr. Harpole states: “It is important to keep in mind that today’s health data is generated from an increasing number of disparate sources – some readily recognized for their potential health value, others perhaps less so. Wearable devices like fitness trackers, for example, have become the norm, recording one’s activity and biometric information like heart rate. Remote patient monitoring and telehealth have become more prevalent, giving rise to much more patient-generated data. Less conventional data sources include narrative descriptions of symptoms patients might share via social media.”
With the rapid expansion technology and generated data, she believes that there will be additional concerns as to what data can be collected and how it will be stored. Dr. Harpole concludes, however, that if managed correctly the the additional data can be used to help providers and patients make informed decisions to improve healthcare outcomes.
When asked his perspective about the difficulties hospitals will face in the future, Dr. Ashish Atreja, cofounder of Responsive Health and Chief Innovation and Engagement Officer of Mount Sinai Health System stated:
1. Complying with the new regulations set by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) in the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) and reporting data to the CMS to avoid future penalties.
2. Incorporating digital medicine technologies, such as apps, wearables and digital therapeutics, in order to increase patient engagement and extend care outside of the clinical setting.
3. Utilizing digital medicine to ensure that patients follow their physician’s instructions in order to avoid returning to the hospital after surgical procedures. This not only promotes a patient’s health on a continuous basis, but also assists health systems in avoiding readmission penalties.
4. Keeping up with the added paperwork created by complying with CMS regulations. This includes using effective electronic medical record systems to record and report patient data more efficiently.
5. Finding new ways to provide treatment to under-served populations who previously lacked high quality care prior to the Affordable Care Act, as well as manage a growing, and aging, patient population. (Direct Quote, Dr. Ashish Atreja)
Technology is continuously advancing, and as pointed out by the experts, with these advancements there are many advantages and disadvantages, but the key is for healthcare organizations to stay ahead of the curve by being prepared.