This article appears in the February 2012 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.
Changes wrought by technology are making an indelible mark in service lines for health systems big and small. This is being reflected in a hospital when a patient is given an iPod with a Pandora app to listen to any music she wants to hear as she waits for an oncological exam (You want Motown, you've got it!) and in the surgical suite where physicians use da Vinci robotic systems for minimally invasive procedures, as well as new cloud-based data systems that allow clinicians instantaneous access to a patient's heart rhythms.
Health systems are moving ahead quickly in pursuing technology improvements, using robotics, apps, telemedicine, clouds, electronic medical records, device journals, or other innovations to provide value and add volume to their service lines. Leaders of healthcare systems say they are working to improve patient experience and patient flow in highly personalized programs while using smartphones and tablets to monitor health conditions and evaluate symptoms. Part of the rush is based on federal incentives under meaningful use requirements.
Edward W. Marx, senior VP and chief information officer for the 3,800-bed Texas Health Resources system in Dallas, says health systems have little choice but to embark on technological improvements to advance care.
"We work under the strategy that IT exists to transform, grow, and help run the organization and to be viewed as a strategic asset," says Marx. "It's all about patient experience and quality of care. We talk about transforming growth from a business perspective. Innovation is who we are and who we aspire to be. It is pretty much strategic for the organization. We try to live that culture of being innovative, and it expresses itself in many ways."
Texas Health Resources has initiated an array of technological changes that have improved efficiencies and patient care, Marx says. The system has encouraged doctors to use medical apps and smartphones and, on a limited basis, personal health devices such as EKG systems and blood pressure monitors that patients can use at home to help keep them out of hospitals, as well as handheld monitors to ensure they keep appointments.
Health systems are making both tweaks and large-scale improvements to tech initiatives they have had in place for years, such telehealth, EMRs, or robotic programs.
But that doesn't mean all health systems are fully embracing technology just yet. According to the HealthLeaders Media Industry Survey 2012, 20% of leaders say their organization is cutting back on high-level, high-price technology for service lines.
"A lot of hospitals are feeling pressure to get something, and that the technology is going to solve all their problems," says Gregory K. Feld, MD, director of the cardiac electrophysiology program for the 600-plus-bed UC San Diego Health System in La Jolla, CA. "The fact is they have to be careful what they do."
Ferdinand Velasco, MD, vice president and chief medical information officer for Texas Health Resources, notes that while some apps "provide less return than others, they are still important, especially as you begin to experiment with innovation.
"If it is a vanilla app but gets users comfortable with the technology or concepts, but has little value to the business, it is still a major win," Velasco says.