The Evolution of Technology in Healthcare
Up until the recent past, transformative patient care technology consisted primarily of electronic medical records (EMRs). EMRs were a mainstay in many healthcare organizations’ technology investments, providing a single place to maintain and share patient medical records. EMRs dramatically reduced errors, maximized cost-efficiency and allowed for better coordination between healthcare providers.
Thanks to emerging web-based software, privacy and security concerns and eventual government mandates in 2014, EMRs got a facelift. According to one resource, “The ability to access information remotely or store on a remote-system made the electronic method to keep records more appealing and ultimately more affordable for physicians to implement in their practice.” Hence, the Electronic Health Records (EHRs) was born, expanding the EMR capability to focus more on the total health of the patient.
EHRs enable quick access to patient records, current and complete information about patients, and the ability to securely share patient data. It has also dramatically improved billing and payment. The promise for EHRs is great, however, the majority of organizations have yet to expand their use of EHRs to improve the entire patient experience as it was intended.
The Patient Journey
The patient experience is a journey. From the time they check into a healthcare facility until they have completed their care regimen, there are multiple opportunities to provide excellent care or introduce risk. From the tools and technologies to the procedures and protocols, hospitals must continually re-evaluate their strategies to ensure the total care of each patient. This has not been an easy task, as patients are becoming more aware of their options and advocating for better care and service.
Patients are consumers and they are demanding more of their healthcare providers to align with what they have become accustomed to in other areas of their lives. They want the convenience of scheduling and getting appointments, online bill payments, and registration, viewing health data in one place, and connecting with providers from their mobile device. These demands are putting pressure on doctors and hospitals to invest in technologies to enable such conveniences while still offering safe, quality care. While some healthcare organizations have made the transition, others still lag behind.
Lowering Risks for Better Patient Care
A significant challenge for all facilities is proper medication management, something EHRs are typically not used to control. According to Healthcare in America, medication errors occur in 3.8 million hospital admissions and 3.3 million outpatient visits annually in the U.S., with 7,000 of those errors leading to death. By leveraging more specialized patient care technology, hospitals and healthcare facilities can reduce medication errors by as much as 85 percent, according to at least one study.
As healthcare facilities attempt to reduce their risks and improve the patient experience in all areas, they are looking to technology to help. There are emerging apps that remind patients to take their medications and allow providers and patients to text each other for regular check-ins. With 54 percent of consumers saying they would be likely to try an FDA-approved app or online tool for the treatment of a medical condition, this type of investment is likely a good bet. It not only provides greater convenience for the patient but enables doctors to provide greater accessibility and potentially open up new revenue streams.
There are other patient care technologies to consider. Computers and barcode systems embedded with security software track medication inventory, require nurse authentication to access medications, and monitor which medications are removed from medicine cabinets. Other technologies sync different hospital systems to not only share data, but also create automated alerts, notifications, and workflows. For instance, some medical cabinets have embedded software that is integrated with pharmacy systems. It enforces a pharmacy verification step before specific medications are accessed to prevent the wrong medications or dosages being administered to the patient.
Should Patient Care Technology Be a Priority for Healthcare Organizations?
Healthcare organizations can only remain viable if they provide quality, safe patient care. How they deliver on that mission, however, is not always the same. Larger, urban facilities, facilities, may have more funds to invest in patient care technology than smaller, more rural facilities with limited budgets. Still, others remain loyal to legacy systems and procedures because they lack the budget for modern technology investments or they are simply slow adopters. Change can be a tall hurdle that is overwhelming if the right resources and processes aren’t in place to manage it.
But change happens. Hospitals and healthcare facilities who don’t prioritize these types of patient care technology investments have a lot to lose. Hospitals are being graded, both by organizations who publish online hospital scores and by patients themselves who take to social media to vent their complaints. Even the mainstream media is quick to report on medical mistakes and poor patient care. In a recent NPR article, a nurse was prosecuted for taking the wrong medication out of a dispensing cabinet that led to a patient’s death. While she faces jail time, her employer, Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, faces backlash for their lack of systems and protocols to prevent such mistakes from occurring. These repercussions can cost caregivers their quality of life, hospitals millions, and permanently damage reputations.
Related: Medication Mistakes: Who’s at Fault?
What Can Be Done
PwC’s Health Research Institute (HRI) identified three high-value customer experience initiatives for health companies:
- Data sharing and strategic partnerships
- Making the customer experience second nature for staff. This includes providing clinical and administrative staff with the right tools and training so they can spend more time with patients instead of looking for data. The more time nurses spend with patients, the better the patient outcomes, the fewer errors occur, and the greater patient and nurse satisfaction. It also involves investing in digital platforms and automation.
- Untethering the patient by offering greater patient access and convenience through digital technologies
Thankfully, 49% of provider executives say customer experience is a top strategic priority over the next five years and 38% of providers plan to invest in non-EHR technologies in the next three to five years. This is great news for all patients who trust in their medical providers to deliver quality, convenient patient care.
Making The Transition
Equipping hospitals and healthcare facilities with patient care technology should be a priority, however, it may not be easy. Simply adding new technologies won’t fix the issues unless there are proper protocols, workflows, and procedures put into place. Staff who operate under these guidelines must be continually trained to follow them or the entire system will fail.
In the tragic nurse mistake mentioned above, there were multiple points of failure. First, the hospital enabled and even promoted the act of nurses overriding the automated dispensing cabinet’s security feature. The nurse overrode the system meant to protect patients from receiving the wrong medications because she was unable to find the prescribed medication on the patient’s profile. She typed the first few letters of the prescription into the software system and grabbed the first medication that popped up, unknowingly taking the wrong medication with similar spelling.
While it would be easy to blame the nurse, there is controversy over who is really at fault. The nurse or the policies and procedures that enabled her? Hospitals must take a hard look at their system, policies, and procedures first and foremost. Only then can they truly leverage the patient care technology in the right capacity as to not introduce more risk to the patient.
Transitioning to these technologies from legacy systems is a huge step in providing better and safer patient care but only if it is balanced with a methodical system review. Ultimately, the success of the patient’s journey and the hospital’s care rides on this perfect harmony.