The beginning of a new year is usually a time for optimism. But for a U.S. health system stretched thin by wave after wave of COVID-19 variants, that hope may be hard to come by.
The healthcare workforce is depleted, exhausted and demoralized. Care quality is often degraded, and patient accessibility is still lacking. Data is everywhere, but not always available or decipherable to help manage myriad challenges. Financial and revenue cycle disruptions are significant. Progress toward accountable care is halting. Relentless cyberattacks are an ongoing threat.
But still there are reasons to be cheerful. Technology is never a panacea, but tools and strategies are emerging and evolving to meet some of these challenges, and to help build a brighter future – one of more robust interoperability, renewed attention to social determinants of health, and carefully deployed telehealth and remote monitoring programs, to name just a few imperatives.
We heard recently from an array of technology leaders, who offered some insights into their expectations for the year ahead. Here’s what they had to say.
Jerry Shultz, president of Lightbeam Health, whose population health management platform helps risk-bearing organizations manage the cost and quality demands of value-based reimbursement, would like to see a wholesale effort to improve the care delivery system writ large.
“Faced with a once-in-a-century pandemic on top of new digital care-delivery models, clinicians and care managers have been overwhelmed with mountains of data, best-practice advisories and alert fatigue that, while seeking to streamline care management, have only made it harder,” said Shultz.
“As a result of reaching a tipping point on these issues, I believe 2022 will see the beginning of a Peace Corps-type effort to address burnout through a combination of industry innovation and government incentives,” he said.
That starts, he explained, by “giving clinicians the necessary supplies and resources to provide care that helps them better manage stress levels, tackling clinician patient loads by incentivizing new professionals to join the industry, and providing easy-to-use technology at the point of care that surfaces the right patient data and insights.”
Rhonda Collins, RN, chief nursing officer at Vocera, developer of clinical communication tools, also hopes to see a redoubled effort to address the many significant challenges facing the workforce and the workplace as the COVID-19 crisis continues into its third year.
Hospitals and health systems are grappling with “ongoing labor shortages, increased workplace violence and many other burdens impacting the safety and wellbeing of pandemic-weary healthcare workers,” said Collins.
She emphasized the importance of fostering feelings of trust and safety – for patients and hospital staff alike.
“As the threat of workplace violence continues to escalate, leaders will need to adopt technologies that protect frontline healthcare workers, such as hands-free communication devices that include panic buttons,” she said. Technologies that “protect the nurses and facilitate their clinical practice will go a long way to build trust and help retain and recruit these essential workers that we all need now and in the future.”
Meanwhile, as care continues its expansion beyond the four walls, “family inclusion in the patient’s healthcare experience will be top of mind as patients move into hospital at home scenarios,” said Collins.
Dr. Maulik Majmudar, chief medical officer and cofounder of Biofourmis, which offers AI-enabled digital therapeutics, is also looking at the future of remote patient monitoring.
“The adoption of hospital-at-home programs across the country has been rapid, with nearly 200 hospitals participating in the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ Acute Hospital Care at Home program in only a year since its launch,” said Majmudar.
“As enrolled patients recover faster, have lower rehospitalization rates and overall better experiences, these programs will continue to spread. In the coming year, we’ll see more positive metrics from early adopters optimizing their programs, and in turn acute care at home will continue to be expanded to more conditions, patients and healthcare organizations. This is just the beginning: The future of healthcare is in the home.”
“COVID-19 has accelerated the need for innovation in healthcare technology unlike any event the industry has witnessed in modern history, and there are no indications that the momentum will stall any time soon,” added Dan Greenleaf, CEO of Modivcare, which specializes in transportation and at-home services to boost access to care.
“[Technologies] such as remote patient monitoring and health apps have shown great promise in their ability to improve the lives of underserved populations by connecting them with solutions that address the social determinants of health,” he said. “These solutions help providers perform at-home health interventions that prevent sometimes costly and logistically impossible doctors’ visits.”
But Russ Thomas, CEO of health information network Availity, said these new technologies and modalities of care need to be developed and deployed with the needs of patients and clinicians at top of mind.
“While 2021 was the year of adopting and adapting to newly automated processes and practices, 2022 will be the year to dramatically improve the patient, provider and workforce experience,” said Thomas.
He pointed to one familiar pain point that still needs fixing.
“The prior authorization process is a perfect example of a problem demanding an elegant solution. Imagine you work in a provider’s office, and you spend more than half your day on the phone trying to get an authorization for a procedure for one patient. Now, multiply that process by ten or more patients a day. That’s not an efficient use of time, and it’s not rewarding work.
“For the patient, it can be an absolutely maddening experience,” Thomas added. “Fully automating prior authorizations will allow providers and their staff to spend more time interfacing with their patients, providing a better patient experience and a more fulfilling career for the team.”
Gregg Church, president of 4medica, which develops clinical data management and interoperability tools, noted that patients are empowered as never before – but there’s still work to be done.
“Patients are now recognized as the ultimate guardians of their health data, capable of making informed decisions about who can have real-time access to their data and when they can have it,” he said. “In the coming year, improving health data quality issues, including patient identity management, will become a requirement to accurately match and aggregate all documents in a single patient record for the patient to administer and become further engaged in their healthcare journey.”
But that type of positive engagement will depend on rethinking some fundamental legacy technologies on the provider side, said David Lareau, CEO of Medicomp Systems.
“There’s a lot of chatter today about the ‘post-EHR’ world, where everyone has electronic health records and, with the 21st Century Cures Act, those systems will be required to share that data,” he said. “But before we can solve the problem of finding relevant information in the incoming data, we need to address the fact that users of legacy EHRs have trouble finding relevant clinical information in their own systems.
“The transition to value-based care will only make this problem more acute and will require a new set of tools for clinicians,” said Lareau. “Fortunately for clinical users, such solutions are becoming available for integration with today’s EHRs, and as essential building blocks for the next generation of systems to support value-based care.”