For better healthcare, you must embrace the cloud

When I arrived at Easterseals Bay Area (ESBA) in 2012, after spending decades in consulting and tech start-ups, it was like déjà vu.

My experience up to that point involved companies that had embraced technology as a strategic tool and were well on their digital transformation journey. ESBA, founded in 1927, was a small, traditional non-profit, and not anyone’s idea of a tech-driven start-up.

In 2012, something else appeared on ESBA’s front doorstep: New legislation passed mandating that insurers pay for services for individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This new law was the genesis to exponential demand for ASD services—and it catapulted ESBA from a small service provider to an organization with a network of providers and more than 7,000 practitioners. The level of growth we required could not be managed manually; we needed an effective way to link providers and practitioners through to a single electronic health record (EHR) system, as well as a fully-integrated platform for revenue cycle management, referral management, authorization management, customer engagement, care coordination, and partner management. And for the back-office side, we had to implement and integrate several other cloud-based solutions, supporting capabilities for core accounting, finance, human resources and payroll system functions to scale the business operations.

As if developing all these capabilities wasn’t a tall enough order, there was one critical component that made the project even more challenging: We decided from the start that everything had to be interoperable—that each system would be capable of exchanging data with the others. Even though healthcare might struggle in this area, we were determined to lead with and support an open-architecture approach. Our vision involved seamless information flow, clear incorporation of system-of-record and scalable micro-services architecture design principles. As part of this, we also required full data availability and integrity that would optimize the patient experience, improve clinical outcomes, and satisfy HIPAA security and privacy rule requirements.

It was simple: We needed a cloud-based partner with an innovative platform approach.

Unlike other solutions that require on-premise systems support or are hosted versions of on-premise solutions requiring management of multiple codebases and ultimately impeding scalability, true cloud-based platforms can scale exponentially to support growth and don’t require upfront capital investments. Equally important is a built-in API strategy that permits connections and exchange of data with a variety of other applications to support and augment our end-to-end business and clinical care workflows through web-based open APIs. These interfaces serve as virtual double-sided sockets: One system connects to an API from one end, while another connects through a different API from the other end. The interfaces become a conduit for secure information exchange among applications and systems.

Another major advantage of cloud-based EHRs (and cloud computing in general) is the ability to focus internal teams on value-added product development and services that solve challenges for clinicians, operational staff, and clients and their families. Focusing on building products through user-centered product design allowed for solutions that ultimately serve the customer better, enhance operational efficiencies, increase security and compliance, and in the end improve clinical outcomes. In addition, our teams applied agile principles and iterated through design and development sprints, incorporating apps available on the cloud-based platforms as starting points for a complete solution. This ultimately enabled time-to-market in a matter of months versus years and delivered meaningful value to our customers both internally and externally.

Six years into my role with Easterseals, I’m happy to reflect that we are now contributing as healthcare innovators by transforming home and community-based care. And we’re still focused on what we’ve always done well, helping our clients and their families live, learn, work and play to their full potential. Now, we are becoming a data-driven enterprise and delivering impact more efficiently and effectively through the strategic application of digital tools. As I look forward, the most exciting part is that I am confident we’ll continue to see even more progress in the coming years. As the digital transformation in the healthcare industry continues, we will continue to integrate new advancements into our core business and clinical workflows that focus on engaging each client as an active member of the care cycle. We believe deeply that AI- and machine learning-fueled patient-facing mobile applications will only lead to better care outcomes. Reflecting on the dramatic progress we’ve made in six years, I can’t help but get excited: What good will these next six years bring?

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