In January 2020, we brought together healthcare IT executives for virtual focus groups to learn about their IT priorities for the coming year, specifically around connected care. The mood was calm as these leaders — all members of the College of Healthcare Information Executives (CHIME) — reflected on recent progress and initiatives under way.
Shortly thereafter, the healthcare industry was suddenly thrust into the biggest health crisis of our generation.
From a technology perspective, the evolution of COVID-19 has turned out to be a sort of proving ground for the concepts discussed in those January focus groups. Rather than being pushed to the back burner, efforts to achieve connected care through data optimization are ever more critical.
Here’s a look at key highlights of the focus group discussions and their relevance today.
Interoperability of Systems and Patient Data Needs to Happen…and Soon
Patients often see multiple providers across specialties, and they’re also tapping into smart medical devices and wearables at an astonishing rate. Millions of these patient data touchpoints currently exist in isolated siloes.
Linking this information between relevant parties, providers, payers, public health agencies and other stakeholders is critical to capturing insights that can be used to drive better health outcomes.
Enabling this interoperability is also becoming required through pending government regulations. Without interoperability, a true healthcare ecosystem doesn’t exist.
That said, healthcare executives believe progress will be scant without federal support for a National Patient Identifier (NPI). The truth is, while they may feel limited in their ability to achieve this in-house, there are ways to leverage a third-party data partner to create a non-SSN unique identifier for each individual that can be used to cleanse and aggregate data across systems. Interoperability is not exclusive to NPI.
Digital Transformation Intensifies the Focus on Cybersecurity
Faced with increasing competition, health systems have elevated the importance of patient experience. Digital portals and apps, text notifications and explosive adoption in telehealth all contribute to convenient (and now socially distanced) interactions.
IT professionals constantly work to balance security risk with quick and easy system access patients and clinicians want. Erring on the side of user convenience, many have continued to use single-factor authentication instead of a best-practice multifactor approach. As healthcare organizations have become a bigger target of fraudsters during COVID-19, single-factor is not enough.
There’s a better way: a number of behind-the-scenes authentication tools are available to support multifactor processes, enabling the friction-free access users demand without sacrificing security.
Health Systems Will Increase Emphasis on Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) Data
Social factors account for more than 1 in 3 deaths a year in the U.S., making SDOH a significant consideration in value-based care models. As of January 2020, most of our focus group participants were still in the infancy of adopting SDOH data, mostly collecting this information via surveys at the point of care. Only a few had the capability to analyze and package the data in a meaningful way.
However, the rate at which COVID-19 has affected vulnerable populations highlights the need to proactively identify individuals most impacted by social determinants of health barriers so that resources can be deployed accordingly to help them maintain and improve their health. Pulling zip codes doesn’t go deep enough; address-level and patient-level data provides more clarity on factors such as income level, crime rates and social isolation.
Collaboration (internal and external) Is Key for Connected Care
Connected care requires teamwork. Healthcare IT leaders say they get the best results when they rally support from multidisciplinary stakeholders across the organization. Meanwhile, cross-collaboration is happening across the industry in some interesting ways.
For example, a team here at LexisNexis® Risk Solutions was honored to partner with government agencies and academia to create the COVID-19 Data Resource Center, including a visualization tool to give the public clarity about a number of pandemic-related risks at the U.S. county level.
There’s no doubt these are extraordinary times for the U.S. healthcare industry. The journey through the current health crisis is one of sharp twists and turns with an unknown endpoint. However, any progress we can make, collectively, toward achieving the vision of patient-centered, connected care will strengthen the resiliency and responsiveness of our healthcare system moving forward.
For more commentary from our “state of technology in healthcare” focus groups, download our white paper: A Clear Vision, But A Long and Winding Road.
 Kaiser Family Foundation, Beyond Health Care: The Role of Social Determinants in Promoting Health and Health Equity, May 10, 2018