Spending on healthcare has steadily increased. A recent report by the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) noted that healthcare expenditures hit $3 trillion in 2014, and continual growth is expected at 5.8 percent per year over the next several years. The number-one contributor to this healthcare expenditure is, and will continue to be, chronic disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that 86 percent of all healthcare spending in 2010 went to people with one or more chronic medical conditions. Additional studies have also discovered that one in four American adults suffer from two or more chronic conditions.
Given this kind of comorbidity and condition distribution, increasing medical specialization, mandates imposed by the Accountable Care Act (ACA) and increasing spread of Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs), it should come as no surprise that effective care and management of this population requires a team-based approach. Hence, the rise and need for care teams. While it would be ideal for all care teams to be co-located and near their patients, the following realities make for very distributed teams:
- Geography: remote vs. urban areas
- Different organizations: hospitals, general practice clinics, specialist clinics
- Choice of electronic health record systems (EHRs): Epic, Cerner, AllScripts, eClinicalWorks and so on
With this kind of distribution, communication is a challenge. We all know teams do not work well without effective, continuous communication and dialogue. However, the set of realities mentioned above make this challenge significant. As Jeff Daly put it, “Two monologues do not make a dialogue.” With adding variation across the provider spectrum in terms of tools, technology and standards, it is no surprise that healthcare communication is similar to the Tower of Babel.
Three key elements of a communication strategy.
I think we can all agree that this is a problem worth solving. The benefits would be substantial, not only by reducing costs but also in terms of improving the quality of care provided to patients. Therefore, it is imperative that healthcare organizations and vendors offer solutions to patients by working together to streamline and simplify the flow of information. I would highly recommend consideration of the following elements as part of any communication and collaboration strategy:
- Timeliness – Eventually, information does percolate down to the people who need it. However, the challenge is not if someone knows but when they know. Timeliness is critical in the healthcare domain, which is why we often see providers use convenient tools like SMS or IM to share information or ask questions quickly despite associated privacy and security risks. Any solution that expects broad usage must address this aspect of timeliness and convenience.
- Context – Information without context is practically useless. Decision-making in healthcare is complex, so incomplete information can often be just as dangerous as no information at all. This is where experience in healthcare integration, interoperability and collaborative messaging can be combined to provide a unique solution that not only facilitates information-sharing but also efficient decision-making – one of the active, ongoing collaborations between Catalyze and Voalte.
- Security – This is a given, but it is surprising how often this is addressed after the fact. Healthcare data should be seen as more sensitive than financial data. After all, you can always get a new credit card but you can’t erase the stigma over a private condition that might be made public. That is a genie that cannot be put back in the bottle.
Each of these three key elements must be a core part of any communication solution that organizations consider when addressing the increasing demands in modern healthcare.
While currently challenging, improving the sharing of healthcare data has a clear value proposition, financially and for both improved quality of care and outcomes. Companies like Voalte and Catalyze are working together to make these solutions a reality.
Mohan Balachandran is co-founder and president of Catalyze, which offers HIPAA compliant, HITRUST Certified cloud-based hosting and interoperability solutions for the healthcare industry. His multi-platform development experience, along with his work with multiple large health systems and health plans, make him a noted speaker at healthcare conferences.