Against the backdrop of the pandemic, the preferences and expectations of healthcare consumers have changed significantly over the last two years. One of the most profound changes taking place is that patients are now prioritizing convenience and access to care above all else. As a result, health systems are investing heavily in digital transformation initiatives that enable them to streamline their operations and become more consumer-friendly. According to Precedence Research, the market for healthcare’s digital transformation in North America is expected to surpass $151.8 billion by 2027, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 17.29% from 2021 to 2027.
Telemedicine, IoT-enabled medical devices, modern electronic health records (EHR) and artificial intelligence (AI) are just a few examples of the digital technologies that are completely reshaping how patients interact with healthcare professionals. However, despite these innovative technologies, there is one critical piece of the equation that’s holding the complete digital transformation of healthcare back. It’s the way in which patient data is shared amongst healthcare providers, which impacts how care is coordinated and medical decisions are made.
Patient-First Care Depends on Better Collaboration
“The digital transformation of healthcare has the potential to make medical care more collaborative than ever before,” said Tabitha Lieberman, President, EHR and Healthcare Applications at Brightwork Health IT. “This is important because better coordination between primary care physicians, hospitals, specialists and the patients themselves equals better overall care. But unfortunately, the sharing of information and services between hospitals and outside practitioners and specialists isn’t as streamlined as it could be.”
Brightwork, Health IT is an IT consultancy that helps healthcare organizations with large IT implementations, digital transformation initiatives, and technical resources. And Lieberman, who recently joined the firm, knows a thing or two about the inner workings of healthcare. In 2021, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) honored Lieberman with its Most Influential Women in Health IT award.
According to Lieberman, the future of healthcare depends on better collaboration.
“Without collaborative efforts, the industry will remain too fractured to successfully transform itself into the patient-first industry it needs to be,” she said. “When I was with Providence St. Joseph Health, this was our top priority. And with great success, we leveraged technology to bring previously siloed hospitals, practices and specialists together within a single network.”
EHR Vendors Hold the Key to Better Information Sharing
Before joining Brightwork, Lieberman was with Providence St. Joseph Health (PSJH), the nation’s third-largest health system, where she was responsible for delivering core information technology platforms to all 118,000 employees, 70 hospitals, and more than 1,800 clinics, and numerous other healthcare services. She also supported one of the largest community connect programs in the US. A big part of that job was implementing systems that made patient information more accessible and enabled efficient collaboration amongst healthcare workers, hospitals and practices, regardless of location. She shared that one of the key technologies that drove this was an Epic’s electronic health record (EHR) system. She said Epic is built for the whole care experience from patients, clinics, hospitals, and all the core services needed to support care and operations. Epic’s functionality enhances the day-to-day operations of a practice, including the management and sharing of patient medical records.
According to KLAS Research, 72 percent of US hospitals deploy EHR systems from one of three leaders in the space: Epic, Cerner and Meditech. For its US Hospital Market Share 2021 report, the group found that Epic held 31 percent of the hospital EHR market and 42 percent of hospital beds. Cerner came in second, controlling 25 percent of the hospital EHR market and 27 percent of hospital beds. And Meditech came in with 16 percent of the hospital EHR market and 15 percent of hospital beds.
Although it is the market leader, the way Epic works between care providers hasn’t always been straightforward. Information sharing is generally easy if a care provider is within the Epic software license holder’s system. But let’s say you’re an independent specialist who has referred a patient to the regional hospital for outside care. Collaborating and sharing patient information might not be as streamlined as it could be unless the independent provider also has an Epic license.
The Transformation of EHR
“In the past, one of the downsides of Epic was that it was cost-prohibitive for smaller hospitals and independent specialists,” added Lieberman. “Implementation can cost millions of dollars, which is out of reach for many healthcare practices. This essentially drove a wedge between the health systems and outside providers for many years. But then Epic introduced Community Connect.”
Epic’s Community Connect was designed to break down the barriers by enabling large healthcare systems and smaller providers to communicate in real-time and share electronic records from one medical entity to another while being easier and less expensive to install. This has helped break down operational silos between several health systems and independent care providers by powering collaborative healthcare with integrated clinical records.
“Community Connect is a cost-effective program that allows smaller hospitals and independent practitioners to connect to a larger health system or hospital via the Epic EHR network,” said Lieberman. “This enhanced interoperability between care providers helps increase referrals and helps lower the cost of an EHR implementation.”
A benefit to health systems that are the hosts of an Epic Community Connect network appears to be that the move makes increasing or maintaining referral levels easier. Due to the shared technology platform, referrals from one healthcare facility to another are as simple as pushing a button. This contributes to an increase in revenue and a lowering of costs. In addition, patients that are within the network are much more likely to stay because of how much easier it is to get the care they need.
Community Connect is a Step in the Right Direction
“Outside of the business benefits, patient care improves when others outside the health system can connect to the EHR,” said Lieberman. “When patients arrive after being referred from one facility to another within the network, the new provider will already have access to all the patient information and recent medical history they need. This makes it less time-consuming to care for them, and it also improves the reliability of medical history.”
Platforms like Community Connect aim to enable patients to be moved between organizations smoothly and efficiently. They also help larger organizations expand their healthcare presence to smaller organizations in their local and regional communities. And they help smaller organizations keep costs down while still enjoying the benefits of an EHR.
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