IT Strategy in Healthcare
By Matthew Sena, M.H.A., CIO, Northern Arizona Healthcare
Today’s healthcare IT strategy is a tree with multiple trunks and many intertwining branches addressing needs of a complex and evolving healthcare landscape. The term “healthcare technology strategy” itself has become increasingly sophisticated and includes an endless list of components extending far beyond traditional infrastructure and support. The healthcare trends driving these strategies are equally diverse and must be considered by organizations which are developing their own IT strategies. Additionally, because execution of IT strategies often requires large capital investments and non-trivial process advancement, it is absolutely critical to understand the vector of these trends and remain in lock-step with today’s requirements, while setting the foundation for tomorrow.
Though not comprehensive, I view the following healthcare trends as the most stable and impactful: Access—increasing need for access to care, both physical and virtual; consumerism—ever growing demand for transparent and competitive services and pricing; data—necessary for access to actionable data by all members of care teams, including patients and families; and finally partnership—developing and fostering relationships with other effective care partners. Planning with these trends in mind will allow organizations to develop strategies that focus on meeting the most critical needs while minimizing risk of exploring more volatile trends.
The need for convenient access to quality healthcare will continue to drive technology demands. From a patient perspective, this is as much an issue in urban areas as it is in rural. Rural areas must develop technology strategies to address under service, specialty gaps and costs of providing services with smaller constituent populations. Urban areas, in contrast to rural, must develop technology strategies to address access due to higher volume demands such as availability and wait times. From a care provider and payer network perspective, ensuring an accessible and convenient network is a necessary prerequisite for continued operations, expansion and to maintain or grow market share.
"Ensuring an accessible and convenient network is a necessary prerequisite for continued operations, expansion and to maintain or grow market share"
Successful organizations will continue to invest in technologies that enable them to provide care to more individuals by minimizing requirements for traditional brick and mortar infrastructure, empowering patients and their families and maximizing utilization of provider talent across extended geography. Strategies which include tele-health and telemedicine, such as virtual visits, scheduling kiosks and other such technologies will assist rural areas by bringing needed services at lower costs than traditional physical expansion. Urban areas employing these approaches will improve throughput by combating long wait times for primary care and specialty services. Patients leveraging offerings such as home monitoring, virtual visits, on-line bill pay and patient portals can more readily engage and interact with their care teams beyond traditional restrictions such as geography and working hours.
Although not a new trend, the consumerism of healthcare—highly educated healthcare consumers and those desiring to be engaged in their care—are driving healthcare technology strategies designed to put the consumer in the driver’s seat. Healthcare organizations require integrated technologies to deliver information to consumers—to assist in making informed choices—and provide real-time results and bidirectional communication with its care team. Delivering patient health information through robust patient portals in an intuitive and holistic fashion is a key component in driving choice, engagement and satisfaction. In addition to delivering patient information to the consumer, patient-centric technology should allow and encourage patients to stay engaged in their care via self-help education, real-time results, bidirectional communication and ease of scheduling subsequent appointments and making payments.
Healthcare consumers will continue to expect more of the conveniences of retailers, like Amazon, applied to their healthcare experiences. These expectations will include the ability to shop prices, compare quality, outcomes and experience as well as obtain services conveniently on their own time.
No conversation about healthcare technology trends would be complete without returning to the discussion of data. An absolute necessity, obtaining and effectively leveraging data will separate the healthcare winners from the losers. Data allows for continued emphasis on the triple aim of quality, cost and experience and facilitates attainment of the supporting metrics for each.
Organizations investing in technology that allows them to make data-based decisions will be positioned for success in the face of pay for performance and quality based reporting requirements. Strong competition combined with payment reform requires healthcare organizations to make smart decisions about services offered in relation to demand and community health needs. No longer can healthcare organizations offer unprofitable services out of pure altruism and hope to remain sustainable. Data and the ability to parse data in a meaningful manner is invaluable in this aspect. To make service offering decisions sans meaningful, accurate and all-inclusive data is financial detriment. No population health initiative can hope to be successful without comprehensive data and the ability to apply predictive and prescriptive analytics, this is a topic that can fill volumes alone, so I’ll just mention it and move on.
There is no healthcare technology strategy that does not require strong partnership with someone or some group on some level. Healthcare technology facilitates, empowers and educates, but partnership brings the technology alive. Partnership focuses healthcare technology into a force that can heal, restore faith and better serve the community. Healthcare technology without partnership is a kin to a sail without wind to move the ship forward. For far too long and despite some advances, healthcare technology and CIOs try to go it alone or operate without true partnership within and beyond the organization. Anything healthcare technology can deliver can be enhanced by a strong partnership with vendors, medical staff, nurses and administration. As proprietors of healthcare technology, how we do business is as important as the technology we deliver. Countless times we witness well intentioned souls deliver the goods but fail to partner and connect. The end result is often still successful but I would argue that we can be wildly successful through true partnership.
Northern Arizona Healthcare is creating healthier communities by providing wellness, prevention and medical care through Flagstaff Medical Center, Verde Valley Medical Center, Verde Valley Medical Center—Sedona Campus, Northern Arizona Healthcare—Camp Verde Campus, Northern Arizona Healthcare Medical Group—Flagstaff, Verde Valley Medical Clinic, the Cancer Centers of Northern Arizona Healthcare, Northern Arizona Healthcare Orthopedic Surgery Center, EntireCare Rehab & Sports Medicine, the Bariatric Surgical Weight Loss Clinic, the Heart & Vascular Center of Northern Arizona, the Sleep and Pulmonary Center, Guardian Air and Guardian Medical Transport. We also provide comprehensive imaging, laboratory and pharmacy services throughout the region. Many of the services we provide receive major funding through the NAH Foundation including Fit Kids of Arizona, The Taylor House and Valley View Care.