The 'non-negotiable' areas for health system IT spend

Despite tightening budgets, many health systems are still investing in technology to enhance the digital patient experience. Froedtert Health in Milwaukee is one of those systems.

Bradley Crotty, MD, chief digital engagement officer for Froedtert and Medical College of Wisconsin, joined the Becker's Healthcare Podcast to talk about the system's digital strategy and why it's so important to invest in patient engagement.

Note: responses are lightly edited for clarity and length.

Question: Healthcare resources are valuable right now, but it's still important to grow. What is one risk or investment that is still worth making?

Dr. Bradley Crotty: The investments we cannot afford not to make this year are investments in data and infrastructure to deliver patient engagement. Both of those points are non-negotiable areas that are needed to get where we want to be. The conversation we need to have is around how do we look at these areas as assets? We generally will look at buildings as assets and real estate as assets, but how do we look at the investments in data and infrastructure for digital engagement as strategic assets? We need to keep our foot on the gas in both of these areas.

For data, it's clinical data, but it's also being able to bring together that data with the context of where the patient is in their life, in their neighborhood and in their communities. We need to bring it in with other sources of data, including claims data, to really get a whole picture of who the person is; not just or risk stratification, but so clinical care teams have it available so they can target the right interventions for the right people.

In terms of digital engagement, for us it's been continuing to invest in our digital engagement platform that we are building. While we do use our electronic health record and the digital engagement capabilities within it, we've also needed to bring together experiences from our other digital therapeutics tools, including video visits and telemedicine infrastructure, to really provide the best experience possible. We think that's just like having a building or a center; a lot of people come through every day. It needs to be well-functioning, it needs to be inviting, it needs to be welcoming and it needs to work really well.

We're going to move forward with those investments.

Q: I love that, and it's so important to have great engagement and information for the care teams. When you look at the changes you're making, have the care teams been pretty receptive, or have there been some challenges and questions about whether moving forward with the digital strategy is the right direction for patients.

BC: When I talk either one-on-one with clinicians or in a group, we're trying to find the right balance between care team autonomy at work and the systemness of care. We've reached an inflection point where clinicians have so much on their plates that they're asking for help. This is an opportunity where we can bring in digital the right way to provide that help.

On the flip side, a digital intervention can't result in another inbox message or putting work back on the clinician. But if we're able to do it right, we can provide the support they need. One thing we're looking hard at is the issue of patient portal messages and their growth. That is an important value-add for patients and often focuses on the patients starting their care journey with a question of whether they should come in and be seen. It's a reflection of where the care model needs to change. If we're still locked in a fee-for-service world, we're not able to accomplish that.

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