Changing policies, evolving markets: How health system leaders can make wise IT investments in 2017—and beyond

While many healthcare leaders are trying to read the tea leaves when it comes to national healthcare policy under the new administration, the best approach may be to operate instead within a “policy-proof” framework that enables health systems to thrive no matter what happens with the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the 21st Century Cures Act or other government initiatives.

This approach holds true for many strategic decisions and investments, including healthcare technology.

Ultimately, health IT investments should focus on four holistic criteria that endure no matter what happens with healthcare policy:
• Efficiency
• Quality and safety
• Patient care and experience
• Staff well-being

All of these are essential objectives, regardless of changes that may occur with payment models, in a marketplace where health systems and hospitals are competing for patients. Here’s how to make health IT investments that deliver on these core values.

Keep an eye on efficiency
The only consistency when it comes to healthcare is that it’s always changing. Yet, well-run health systems have withstood major legislative mandates in the last decade, even growing their services and footprints. Savvy leaders recognize that ROI-based technology solutions that are proven to create workflow efficiencies will always bring value, no matter what happens with healthcare policy.

Here are some high-value, “policy-proof” features to look for in healthcare technology:

Mobility. Do the technologies you have or are evaluating free clinical staff to physically move about, or do they chain them to their desks or a nurses’ station? Do these solutions provide flexibility for staff to respond using secure text messaging or voice communication? A responsive employee with the right information in real time is efficient; one who is stuck trying to navigate a cumbersome process or multiple applications is not. If the latter is a regular occurrence, it’s sure to have a negative impact on patient, family and staff experience. Reliable, easy-to-use mobile solutions are a must-have and not just a nice-to-have in mission-critical environments like hospitals.

Intelligent alarm management. Timely alerts are the essence of effective and safe patient care. Yet, instead of singing their praises, many hospitals are buzzing and beeping in a cacophony of alarms, many of which are unnecessary. The Joint Commission estimates that 85 to 99 percent of alarms don’t require immediate clinical intervention. As a result, care teams can become immune to alarm sounds, which can result in fatal consequences. Patients and families can also become fatigued by constant alarms sounding. Alarm management should be a priority for hospitals, because if patients can’t rest, they can’t heal. An effective alarm management solution will enable intelligent integrations with physiologic monitors, real-time location systems, biomed devices like ventilators and many other systems. It will also send contextual information about the alarm directly to care team members on their device of choice via secure text or voice communication.

EHR interoperability. As a host of valuable patient data, electronic health records (EHRs) have the potential to be a powerful engine for improving clinical workflows and care delivery —when combined with the right communication technology. Now that we are post-Meaningful Use, it’s time to double down on using EHRs to streamline the flow of data and speed up coordination of care. It’s no secret that some EHR documentation processes have burdened many clinicians with administrative tasks, which has contributed to increased burnout and fatigue. Healthcare technology that makes it easier for care teams to do their job and directly addresses this issue will endure. Look for an enterprise communication platform that seamlessly integrates with EHRs and other clinical systems to improve staff efficiency and experience.

Built-in analytics and business intelligence. Technology solutions with embedded analytics capabilities can optimize how care teams spend their time—allowing them to prioritize the most important responsibilities. While there are many sophisticated systems dedicated solely to deciphering data, a sustainable communication and collaboration platform should come with additional functionality here as well. It’s the “fuel” for measuring performance, driving down costs, and improving quality, safety, efficiency and the overall healthcare experience.

Address patient and staff well-being
As patients have more information and freedom to choose, hospitals strive to deliver the best care, the shortest wait times, the most services, and the ideal patient experience. In such a competitive environment, it’s important to choose the right solutions and create market differentiation. Before adding a new technology, consider these questions:

• Does it improve workflow and make it easier for care team members to do their job? [One of the best predictors of a good patient experience is satisfied care teams, so this analysis related to staff well-being and satisfaction is particularly important.]
• Does it improve communication and staff response times to patient needs?
• Does it improve patient safety, with specific proof points such as preventing falls?
• Does it comply with security protocols and safeguard patient information?

Consider the Cures Act
Making healthcare IT investments based on a “policy-proof” approach is an ideal and sustainable strategy. Yet, it is also critical be informed about emerging regulations and policies. For instance, the recent 21st Century Cures Act outlines banning “information blocking” from technology systems and calls for the secure, open transfer of all health data. But even in the absence of this regulatory edict, hospitals should seek such solutions to reduce “application fatigue”—that is, having to repeatedly log in and out of different applications to conduct what’s really a single transaction made up of multiple and related steps. A solution that can “speak” with dozens, or even 100, different systems is one that can bring new efficiency and speed.

The Cures Act also tasks Health and Human Services with “reducing the burden” caregivers must handle as it relates to paperwork. This is likely a welcome development for physicians and other care team members who are bogged down in electronic documentation and administrative tasks. It is also sure to satisfy innovative hospital leaders who are already addressing clinician burnout and simplifying processes for their clinicians with clinical and communication integrations.

Simply put: Policies change, but the need for high-quality, efficient, safe and effective care won’t.

lang-brentBrent D. Lang is President and CEO of Vocera Communications, Inc., which offers one of the most robust clinical communications systems in healthcare. Vocera delivers secure, integrated and intelligent communication solutions for hospitals and health systems that enable care teams to collaborate more efficiently via hands-free voice communication, secure text messaging, patient engagement tools, and integrated clinical workflows. In addition to technology solutions, Vocera drives thought leadership and new standards in care to elevate patient, family, nurse and physician experiences via the company's research collaborative, the Experience Innovation Network.


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