Connected health is beginning to take hold. More than 50 percent of hospitals now use three or more connected health technologies such as patient portals, patient education/engagement apps, remote patient monitoring and others, according to the 2016 HIMSS Connected Health Survey. Exactly how connected health will take off as organizations continue to increase investments in these technologies – and what that will meanfor patients and healthcare organizations – is a discourse that is getting plenty of play.
In fact, during “Interoperability, Connected Care and Patient Value: Experts Connect The Dots,” a radio show held during HIMSS16, hosts Justin Barnes, HIT advisor, and Tom Sullivan, editor-in-chief, Healthcare IT News, talked with Ty Tolbert, VP, solutions, Wellcentive; Vivek Reddy, MD, CMIO, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Health Services Division; Tone Southerland, director of strategic consulting, Ready Computing, Inc.; and Kurt Roemer, chief security strategist, Citrix, about connected health’s current and future value, as well as the need to overcome barriers including those associated with security concerns.
While the value of connected care frequently is measured in terms of reduced costs, panel participants pointed to more altruistic benefits. “Traditionally, it’s all been about tight margins and trying to increase revenue. Forget the revenue. This is about doing the right things for people of the nation,” Reddy said. “Population [and connected] health is not just a cost-savings measure. It’s actually a way to make people better and healthier, and that sometimes gets lost in the shuffle.”
Indeed, connected-health technologies are crucial to the myriad programs aimed at improving outcomes simply because these solutions solve the long-standing challenge associated with accessing the right information at the right time. As such, the technologies empower patients and providers to make better healthcare decisions. “It’s a value to the patient, but it’s also a value to the doctors involved because [without connected technologies] they could make bad decisions based on not having all of the data or having inaccurate data because a patient doesn’t remember,” Roemer said.
Tolbert agreed that the value is grounded in improved care but pointed out that benefits will trickle down on the cost side of the equation. “The outcomes are what will drive down cost, which is what we need as a society as a whole to fix the healthcare problem,” Tolbert said.
To leverage connected technologies, however, hurdles must be cleared. Aligning technology to mesh with clinical workflows is one sticking point. “On the clinical side, there are several different workflows that span all the different clinical domains. As those workflows cross the different medical domains, it gets very complicated very quickly,” Southerland said.
While standards groups define workflows, ensuring that organizations comply with their recommendations presents another challenge. “A lot of standards are out there, but not everybody follows them. One organization decides to apply a standard a certain way and another does it a different way,” Reddy said.
Not only should connected technologies mesh with organizational workflows, they need to be user-friendly for patients. “We have to figure out how in the world we can make [connected technologies] more usable for the patient,” Tolbert said. “I recently moved, and my children went to a pediatrician, my wife went to a primary care doctor and I went to another primary care doctor. When trying to access all that clinical information, then move it to our new providers, there were barriers with cost and with technology.”
Southerland agreed, adding that connected technologies should be built with specific use cases in mind. “If you have the best technology in the world, but it’s not implemented in a way that’s useful to the end user, then you don’t have anything,” he said.
Overcoming such barriers could require thinking outside of the box. “We have to dare to rethink how we deliver care . . . everyone says, ‘it’s a data problem,’ or ‘it’s a standards problem.’ However, we need to reimagine roles, responsibilities, what people do with data, what people are responsible for what pieces of it. We need to really rethink the models a little bit,” Reddy said.
Keeping it safe
In addition, to fully leverage these technologies, patients and providers need to trust that information is secure. Making patients more comfortable with data sharing is an important first step. “When patients are thinking about security and loss of information, the value proposition in a fully transparent dataset of health information is sometimes obscure,” Reddy said.
As such, organizations should ensure that patients understand the value that data sharing brings to their personal health to overcome the “unfounded fears that patients tend to pick up” when they see various reports on data breaches and say “I’m not going to share my data because someone’s going to hack into it,” according to Southerland.
Ultimately, to overcome security concerns, organizations should work closely with patients to “make it very easy for the patient to say here’s what I accept and here’s what I don’t accept . . . I want to share this type of information and I want to keep this type of information private,” Roemer said.
From there, organizations should protect what needs to stay private. “In our organization, we’ve spent a considerable amount of time and resources around building a security team that assesses every single application, every single piece of information that moves around our organization or outside of our organization,” Reddy said.
Working with a partner such as Citrix could help organizations achieve the delicate balance between information sharing and data security. To start, Citrix makes it possible for patients to experience the inherent value of connected health by “bringing in the Internet of Things, bringing in a lot of rich data from SpO2 monitors, from temperature monitors, from blood pressure monitors,” Roemer said. “So you have the pre-instrumented patient and they have the connectivity, and even if they can’t go into a healthcare facility, they can participate in healthcare increasingly with instrumented tele-data solutions.”
Citrix also provides what’s needed to calm security worries. “Citrix helps to enable connected health by simplifying things like authentication and identify management, things that get in the way and slow down healthcare organizations. When these things are optimized, it can greatly enhance the security experience and overall healthcare experience.