Healthcare digital innovation has hit a milestone. No longer are executives questioning “if” they should invest. In fact, in a recent study, more than 75 percent of healthcare executives said digital innovation is key to their long-term strategy. The question now is, “How?”
In a period of policy and financial uncertainty, how do we ensure we have the capacity to make necessary investments? And, perhaps most importantly, how do we ensure investments are clearly meaningful assets to our organization and will truly make a difference in the lives of those we touch?
Our responsibility to invest well
All of us in healthcare bear a certain responsibility. Healthcare IT dollars must be spent where it counts: Solving real problems in the healthcare sector. That means we must avoid the projects that simply sparkle yet yield little in true return. We must clearly identify those investments that assure ROI in quality and financial terms, staying true to evidence based medical science and the healing practice of care.
While tempting to implement new patient consumerism technology, the fact remains that only around 7 percent of care is actually “shopable”—as most care is episodic or urgent. However, preventive care technologies and efficiency technologies are being demanded by consumers at an ever increasing rate. We all need to dig deep and meet this challenge.
"Every initiative must meet milestones and metrics, and contribute to extending our health system’s healing mission"
At our organization, we’ve made digital innovation a top-tier system priority. Our work in this area focuses on key strategies such as wellness and preventive care, improved clinical outcomes, and an enhanced patient and clinician experience. Every initiative must meet milestones and metrics, and contribute to extending our health system’s healing mission.
Sound investments lead the way
Let us give you some examples of what sound and successful digital innovation investments look like for our system. Take telehealth, which can be the eyes and ears of clinicians. Up in Alaska, our Anchorage specialists connect electronically with patients on the remote Unalaska Island to assist with emergencies and develop treatment plans.
Similarly, we have invested in telestroke programs that connect specialists with rural patients who now have access to specialty care they would go without if not for this technology. And one of our favorite telehealth innovations is the NICU Webcam Program, allowing worried parents and loved ones the ability to check in on their precious newborns.
Also important is to make digital innovation meaningful to every day consumers who feel much more empowered when they can participate in their health. For example, we’re always improving our online patient portals so patients can access their medical information, pay bills, schedule appointments or message their care provider.
With our eVisits and on-demand Express Care suite of services, our patients can access a primary care provider online within minutes from their mobile device or computer to get a common care diagnosis, treatment plan and prescriptions if needed, or book an appointment.
Some innovations can also be behind-the-scenes. For example, we were the first health system to standardize cancer pathology reporting and automate submission to the California Cancer Registry. Working with the College of American Pathology and California Cancer Registry, we were able to dramatically reduce the lag time in reporting cancer staging and facilitate the beginning of what could be a national database for patients to view treatments, locate clinical trials, and become more informed about their health status.
With predictive analytics we are just beginning to use large amounts of demographic, socioeconomic and health-record data to better predict “high risk” and intervene earlier. The pilot to better predict pressure ulcer development is in its very early stages. Sadly, many other industries are well ahead of healthcare in the use of predictive analytics and we have important work to do in this area.
Investing in teams as well as tech
We must remember that even the wisest investments are meant to be tools for our caregivers. No digital miracle, no matter how impressive, can be expected to fully comprehend a medical situation like an experienced clinician. It’s always the clinical expert who—combined with patient input—uses digital innovations as a means to develop and deliver the best treatment path. Better data and technology can help us, but it’s our expertise as clinicians that points the way. And of course, only a living, breathing clinician can offer care and compassion to an individual when it is needed most, remembering care will always be delivered one patient at a time.
That’s why, in addition to investing in innovation, our health system is attentive to the professional growth and formation of our people. We make sure that, along with having the right tools, our caregivers possess the expertise and compassion that are so necessary in healthcare today. We need to remember that this combination of investing in people and technology will always yield the best results.