Worries about making bleeding edge technology decisions have caused industries like healthcare to be reluctant to implement new technologies for fear of incurring unbounded risk. However, healthcare organizations that invest more heavily in technology leaders, their ideas and the technology that is advancing daily can improve patient outcomes and keep costs down.
Healthcare leadership should position their organizations to take advantage of torrid advances in technology, by following some of these suggestions.
Look to technology giants for models of success
At Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference in 2014, Tim Cook announced Healthkit, Apple’s software development kit for maintaining medical data within iOS devices; ResearchKit followed shortly thereafter. These announcements came with backing from marquee names in the medical field: University of California San Francisco, Massachusetts General Hospital and Mount Sinai Health System, which operates Mount Sinai St. Luke's Hospital in New York. These organizations are not the only healthcare systems embracing technology innovation, but stamping new ideas with approval from industry heavyweights shows top leadership is amenable and open to these kinds of engagements.
Healthcare leadership can also examine companies like Amazon, Facebook, Google and Twitter. These companies allow a certain level of interaction to and from their systems via well-documented public APIs and even integrate with each other on some level. Healthcare leaders can follow tech companies’ leads by ensuring their internal systems are accessible via open APIs and standards in data integration like HL7’s FHIR specification.
Currently, vendors are financially disincentivized from interoperability and integration. It is incumbent on the technology purchaser—the healthcare provider—to push vendors to include specific interoperability capabilities and integration in their contracts and, ultimately, into their products.
Invest in tech talent, and give that talent a seat at the table
Often, healthcare organizations don’t give technically oriented people a large enough platform from which to voice ideas about technology purchases. This leads to healthcare organizations buying technology that appears cheaper today results in higher costs later.
For instance, the timeframe for deploying large-scale systems, including electronic health records, scheduling systems, billing systems and lab-management systems is often measured in years. That long ramp-up period can be costly and only prolongs the use of outdated systems. As such, technology is often viewed as a high-cost endeavor, and money spent on technology transitions can’t be spent elsewhere, such as increasing budgets to attract top talent.
Healthcare organizations must signal to talent that they take technology seriously and that those interested in joining them will have plenty of opportunity to wield new technology to make a difference. Open systems will enable the best and brightest to bring new ideas forward and test them in a safe and secure environment, such as those created with open APIs and standards. This is the kind of environment that attracts top talent—not only the technical kind, but those with academic and scientific acumen as well. Increasingly, scientists and physicians want to work in organizations in which they can get data that will further research.
This shift is already becoming more apparent as younger physicians who have been exposed to technology throughout their lives are now moving into leadership positions. There is a growing movement to cross-train physicians in more technological fields to become chief medical information officers (CMIOs). Graduate public health education concentrations that once focused exclusively on health-centric disciplines are beginning to morph into hybrid technologically focused degrees.
Leading healthcare organizations are also promoting broader professional development in technology. Doctors attend conferences and want to keep up with technology trends. They realize that organizations that do not adopt technology as quickly as their peers will lose ground to, and may even be acquired by, their peers.
Ensure free and unfettered access to data
Big data and analytics pay dividends, regardless of industry, and that awareness is growing rapidly in healthcare. The most effective way to ensure data is accurate and useful is to allow access to that data across the entire organization and with other healthcare organizations. Access enables collaboration and powers innovation that can save lives.
Now is the time for healthcare organizations to jumpstart the conversation. Organizations that can capture a broad swath of patient data and analyze it will become more efficient and cost-effective. More importantly, they will improve the quality of patient care, as well as patient outcomes.
Already, researchers have begun to draw potentially helpful conclusions from studies in the medical informatics space. Healthcare organizations that begin to adopt some of these findings will be able to formulate projects to help prove or disprove (or at least find more evidence in support of or against) these theories. For instance, if a healthcare system can identify patterns in patient data and then take corrective action, they may begin to do things like reduce readmission rates.
Healthcare organizations that devote more resources to technology like big data analysis tools—and the talent necessary to apply those tools—will begin to excel and increasingly attain benefits. For example, Mount Sinai Health System in New York has expanded investments in technological capabilities. Its willingness to make meaningful contributions in time, money and authority for technology programs is making a difference. Other healthcare organizations can begin making a difference, too.
Technology investments can save lives
Healthcare organizations are not technology companies, nor should they be. However, they stand to benefit the most from effective, efficient and judicious application of advanced technology. This application will have real-world impact, not only on cost but on actually saving lives. The aggressive and intelligent use of technology ensures that healthcare organizations have a better chance of mastering their destinies.
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