Communities across the country are facing a shortage of physicians. And healthcare organizations are struggling to meet growing demand for quality care — making the question of how to drive greater efficiency more crucial than ever.
As innovative mobile solutions permeate the healthcare sector, tech-savvy providers are finding new ways to help clinicians work more productively and increase patient engagement.
The Internet of Healthcare Things (IoHT) encompasses connected devices and wearable technologies that enable organizations to provide mobile healthcare and monitoring, biometric data collection, improved patient data management and real-time access to Electronic Health Records (EHRs).
While many hospitals and clinics are just starting to get their toes wet with IoHT technology solutions, others are taking their mobile workforce to the next level. Integrated solutions that connect healthcare workers to each other, their patients, EHR systems and partner organizations are enabling healthcare providers to transform patient care and streamline processes.
Untether physicians and nurses from desktop PCs.
That’s the case with Geisinger Health System, which provides health services throughout central and northeastern Pennsylvania. Geisinger, routinely mentioned with Kaiser Permanente, Mayo Clinic, Intermountain Healthcare and Partners HealthCare as a model for the integrated health system, has consistenty stayed on the cutting edge of healthcare technology and patient engagement.
The organization was one of the first health systems to adopt EHRs. It was also one of the first three healthcare organziations in the U.S. to go live with OpenNotes — a program to make healthcare more transparent by urging care providers to share their visit notes with patients.
A couple of years on the heels of that, the health system developed Geisinger in Motion as part of a large-scale initiative to mobilize its workforce, unify communications between patients and their health teams, and extend services beyond the borders of a brick-and-mortar facility. The program includes a patient portal, patient mobile technology, clinician smart devices and a provider portal.
“Geisinger has embarked on a mission to deliver a personalized experience in all of its patient interactions. This means tailoring customer touchpoints based on communication preferences, behaviors and motivations,” explains Chanin Wendling, associate vice president of informatics and director of Geisinger in Motion, in a press release.
The initiative mobilizes physicians and nurses by equipping them with secure, mobile devices, giving them real-time access to patient records.
When Geisinger piloted the program, it partnered with Verizon for mobile services because Verizon provided the best coverage at Geisinger Medical Center, where the pilot was launched. But rather than contracting individual plans for each user, Geisinger negotiated a single plan for all users, making it easier to distribute devices and mobile management software.
Transforming care delivery with technology solutions
Despite the greater burden for ensuring HIPAA privacy and confidentiality protections, Geisinger expanded coverage to allow for photos to accommodate the picture-taking capabilities of the apps used by physicians. Doctors can share photos of wounds, for example.
A typical use case for the portable devices is staff rounds on the hospital ward, where a screen display can remind physicians and residents of questions to ask each patient — without having to shuffle through paper charts.
Another advantage for clinicians is the ability to use the devices outside the hospital within a micro Virtual Private Network (VPN) that can secure a single clinical app without restricting use of consumer apps.
HIPAA-compliant, secure messaging is a critical component of Geisinger in Motion as it allows clinicians to communicate patient information — whether that includes a medical image or a text notation about a patient — to the entire care team.
Another significant, but often overlooked, feature of the platform is 24/7 clinician access to a library of previously underused resources, such as reference tools and calculators.
The same mobile infrastructure supports hospital-provided tablets or personal devices brought from home for patient engagement. For elective procedures, such as lumbar spine surgery, Geisinger provides patients with a tablet a couple of weeks prior to surgery and for 90 days following surgery.
Patients can view videos of their doctors explaining procedures, watch movies while recovering, check lab results and receive reminders to take medications and perform other therapy for three months after the procedure.
Driving employee satisfaction
Geisinger’s improvements have transformed the patient experience, as well as the end-user experience of its clinicians. The key to this successful transformation lies in how the organization leverages mobile solutions to create a frictionless work environment that enables staff and physicians to focus on delivering care — rather than being distracted by complex technologies or clunky user interfaces.
By emulating Geisinger’s strategies, other healthcare organizations can drive greater employee satisfaction that will enable them to retain top talent, as well as design more productive workplaces that allow for expanding services to more patients.
Remember when doctors used to make house calls? Thanks to emerging healthcare IT solutions, patients can once again speak with their physicians and even have a face-to-face consultation right from the comfort of their own homes. But that’s only the beginning.
What is telehealth?
According to the American Telemedicine Association, telehealth encompasses a range of services, from health monitoring and patient consultation to the transmission of medical records. It’s more broadly defined as any electronic exchange of health information. A growing number of healthcare organizations have embraced telehealth because of the benefits it provides to patients and clinicians.
It has not only expanded and improved access to healthcare services, but also increased patient engagement and enabled more efficient care models. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is one of the largest providers of telehealth services. Last year, more than 700,000 veterans accessed VA telehealth services, which include everything from mental healthcare to surgical specialist consultations. But it’s not just veterans who are benefiting.
Improving healthcare access
One of the biggest advantages of telehealth services is easy access to on-demand care. During a telemedicine consultation, a physician can inquire about symptoms, discuss treatment and determine whether a prescription is necessary. More importantly, for patients who don’t have a reliable means of transportation or who struggle with mobility challenges or disabilities that make traveling difficult, remote access can be a huge quality of life improvement. This is especially true for those living with chronic conditions for which frequent checkups are necessary. Telehealth services are also helping to fill healthcare gaps faced by rural communities across the United States — in areas where patients may have to drive for hours to get to the nearest hospital or specialist.
During a TEDx Talk in March 2017, Lindsey Meyers, vice president of public relations at Avera Health, shared how a critically injured child was saved by a doctor more than 600 miles away. Through a video monitor, the doctor was able to guide local clinicians through reinflating the girl’s lungs and stabilizing her condition.
Lowering readmission rates
In-office visits and overnight stays at healthcare facilities can be difficult for individuals in poor health. Telehealth services reduce hospital readmission rates by enabling doctors to monitor patients outside the office. Because of this, many hospitals have already started to include some form of remote monitoring as part of their post-discharge plans. By equipping patients with wearable devices or other wireless technologies, clinicians can monitor vital signs and symptoms and adjust care as needed without an in-office visit. Alignment Healthcare, for example, developed a program to remotely monitor chronically ill and recently discharged patients and reduce 30-day readmission rates. Enrollees were given a package of Bluetooth-enabled monitoring equipment, including a Samsung tablet, blood pressure cuff, pulse oximeter and scale.
According to a May 2017 article by Alignment Chief Medical Officer Ken Kim, the organization’s efforts paid off. “Because of the program, Alignment’s seniors are seeing reduced 30-day readmission rates … compared to the national Medicare average readmission rate of about 18%. In 2016, Alignment members enrolled in remote [monitoring] across all markets saw hospital readmission rates of 7.2%.”
Making quality care more cost-effective
In August 2017, hospitals across the country were penalized with Medicare reimbursement cuts due to high 30-day readmission rates. The potential to reduce these rates and avoid penalties has made telehealth a financial priority. Healthcare provider TripleCare was the subject of a study conducted by the TRECS Institute, which found that virtual physician services had both increased care quality and averted 91 unnecessary admissions. The result was $1.3 million in Medicare savings. Telehealth services can also provide patients and healthcare facilities in rural areas with additional benefits. NTCA — The Rural Broadband Association released a report in March 2017 that estimated the average annual cost savings per facility could add up to:
$5,718 in patient and caregiver travel expenses
$3,431 in lost wages for time away from work to seek treatment
$20,841 in hospital costs to retain highly trained staff
With many rural areas facing a shortage of specialists, telemedicine enables individual doctors to reach more patients. And the cost to patients for telehealth consultations is often lower than an in-office visit. By serving more patients in a shorter amount of time, healthcare organizations can cost-effectively grow their membership while increasing care quality and patient satisfaction.