Back to the future means back to the basics for health data management – and patient engagement

There's a scene in the movie "Back to the Future II" where Marty McFly gets a glimpse of technologies to come: hoverboards; flat-screen TVs; self-drying clothes and self-tying shoes.

Some of the technologies McFly encountered are being unveiled in healthcare today — though not in the way he might have envisioned.

As HIMSS 2017 approaches, we're seeing biometric devices that can scan a patient's thumbprint at the point of registration, much like when McFly's wife scans her thumbprint to enter their home. In healthcare, a single thumbprint can serve as a link to all of a patient's health data — and help enable not only a seamless registration process, but also the potential for highly coordinated discharge and care transitions.

The video glasses McFly's children wore are reminiscent of Google Glass technology, which gives surgeons the ability to use hands-free checklists to perform complicated cases or hold video consultations as they operate.

The technologies that gave McFly the ability to talk with his arch nemesis via a flat-screen TV now offer patients the opportunity to seek telehealth consultations without ever leaving home. They also present physicians and other clinicians with ways to connect with colleagues and specialists across the country in an instant — and deliver higher-quality care that improves outcomes.

Other critical healthcare innovations might have surprised even a futuristic McFly.

Today, wearable monitoring devices let patients share their personal health information with physicians in ways we haven't seen before. Bed sensors and cameras allow clinicians and family members to monitor the mobility of an aging loved one, for instance, and consider health-enhancing interventions based on data. All of these advances provide a clear look at the next step in the patient's experience and interaction with providers.

As McFly would say: "The future. Unbelievable."

Data management: The key to progress

Still, despite the progress, many healthcare organizations are not quite ready for all the advancements taking place. That opens up tremendous opportunity for healthcare leaders.

At HIMSS 2017, the new world of healthcare technology will require continued emphasis on the ability to capture, transform and manage data efficiently the moment a patient walks through the door to discharge and follow up. It will require an approach to interoperability and data sharing that enables patients and providers to easily access and securely share health information across the continuum of care.

Yet getting to this future state requires a back-to-basics approach. There are three action steps healthcare leaders should consider:

1) Identify inefficiencies in clinical workflows. How much time do your clinicians get to spend on patient care? Are they spending a disproportionate amount of time dealing with paperwork and other administrative tasks to get the patient information they need at the right place at the right time? For many healthcare organizations, significant possibilities exist to identify broken, ineffective processes and to engage providers and IT in developing solutions that advance cost and quality benefits.

Think about the inefficiencies in clinical workflows that increase the cost of providing care. For example, in a typical operating room (OR) there may be a breakdown in scheduling processes. Often, vital information simply isn't received in a timely manner — even for a scheduled procedure — which means the patient procedures must be rescheduled. In addition to incurring the cost of unused OR resources, patient satisfaction may suffer as well. On the other hand, by reducing scheduling inefficiencies, hospitals can help drive out waste, boost OR utilization and improve patient satisfaction.

2) Look for ways to better leverage existing infrastructure. As healthcare mergers and partnerships continue to increase, organizations often find themselves with disparate systems that don't talk with one another, as well as duplicate technologies across facilities. Even the thousands of forms an organization uses can vary by site if leaders don't invest in forms management. Forms management offers the potential for high-dollar savings over time, in addition to the chance to increase efficiency and security.

3) Make sure the right team members are involved in IT acquisitions. Engage professionals from multiple disciplines — physicians, nurses, IT and finance, for example — in evaluating the benefits of any new technology to help it deliver the value you seek. With the right stakeholders involved from the start, adoption rates tend to be more robust, and the potential to truly improve processes increases.

These three steps are a practical approach to navigating an era of exciting change in healthcare prompted by the new technologies we'll see at HIMSS. Such an approach is expected to help improve the patient experience, quality of care and health outcomes while reducing costs — critical objectives in an era of healthcare value.

As the visionary character Doc from "Back to the Future" would say: "Great Scott!"

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