How about a positive healthcare story from the pandemic in 2020?
As COVID-19 escalated, New York City Health + Hospitals, the country's largest safety-net health delivery system, was inundated with cases. The organization serves a million New Yorkers each year, more than 70% of whom are on Medicaid or uninsured and who come from underrepresented communities.
And as NYC Health + Hospitals quickly discovered, these communities were suffering an outsized share of the health and financial burdens of COVID-19. That meant the organization suddenly faced significant challenges, including:
- The need for more clinical staff, immediately.
- The need to triage a high volume of patients.
- The need to update care models to reflect the new realities of the pandemic.
So, as NYC Health + Hospitals' leadership team wrote in a retrospective for the journal Health Affairs, its staff took an agile approach to implementing new processes. For example:
- They migrated to telehealth sessions.
- They leveraged digital technologies, including their EHR and patient texting.
- They credentialed out-of-state providers to increase capacity to treat patients.
- They enabled some providers to work remotely.
Here's how the New England Journal of Medicine described the success of NYC Health + Hospitals in adjusting to the realities of COVID-19:
"The pandemic accelerated [NYC Health + Hospitals'] expanded use of IT to improve the connectedness of all elements within the system and facilitate real-time information sharing. Most notably, the system successfully converted all routine in-person visits to telehealth by mid-March and conducted over 55,000 billable tele-visits in March and nearly 83,000 in April. This response not only ensured access to care for vulnerable populations who were disproportionately affected by the pandemic but also allowed the system to receive reimbursement for these services."
Why was New York City Health + Hospitals able to successfully adapt its processes and care models during the pandemic? Why was the system able to continue serving many of the state's most vulnerable residents—even while dealing with a shortage of ICU capacity, limited clinical staff, increased risk of financial losses, and a sudden transition to remote work?
Let's review a couple of key takeaways from the organization's COVID-19 experience—both of which could apply equally to any health organization, and not only during a pandemic but in normal times as well.
(You can find additional lessons in our white paper: Effective Health IT During a Pandemic.)
Flexible, interoperable IT systems are must-haves for effective patient care
As COVID-19 underscored, a significant percentage of providers still struggle to efficiently access and share patient information with relevant parties. Consider these statistics from a 2019 study by the Center for Connected Medicine:
- Only 37% of hospitals and health systems said they can successfully share information with other systems.
- 41% said these problems hinder their ability to improve patient care models.
- 39% said a lack of interoperability limits their efforts to improve population health.
When you consider how many healthcare entities a patient might encounter—primary doctors, medical specialists, pharmacies, hospitals, LTPAC facilities—you can understand the importance of digital interoperability for the industry. Every healthcare event along a patient's journey that isn't accessible to current and future providers can put both those providers and the patient at risk.
That's why it is so important for electronic health information to flow seamlessly across a variety of systems, and that those systems are all able to read and effectively process the data.
Having a full-service, cloud-based health IT system—with centralized document management, system interoperability, Direct Messaging, cloud fax technology, etc.—is becoming increasingly necessary for any modern health provider.
Health organizations need to prepare now for a remote-work future
Another lesson COVID-19 taught us was that any organization—healthcare providers included—can suddenly find its staff forced to work from home for any number of reasons, from a natural disaster to a pandemic.
Thousands of healthcare organizations, including New York City Health + Hospitals, proved in 2020 that remote working arrangements, even for clinical providers, can work when implemented effectively.
But an organization that waits until we're already facing a new pandemic to begin planning its virtual-care strategy will likely find itself unable to deliver the level of care its patients deserve.
The question to be thinking about now is: What technologies and processes will we need to enable efficient workflows and deliver quality care the next time we're forced to treat patients remotely?
Some important priorities include:
- A secure and dependable digital infrastructure that works anywhere
- An all-digital, interoperable workflow
- Digital cloud-fax technology
Even assuming we never experience another event that triggers a sudden transition to employee quarantining, implementing digital solutions that enable remote work—which can be very simple and painless, with the right partner—will help your organization make large strides in your journey toward full digital maturity.
To learn about a healthcare solution suite that enables better care coordination through interoperability, connectivity, and compliance, visit consensus.com.
About Bevey Miner
Bevey Miner, Health IT Strategy/Chief Marketing Officer for Consensus, has over 20 years of experience in healthcare technology and digital health. Serving in senior and executive positions, she's been instrumental in leading strategy, product management, business development, marketing, and commercialization. Bevey is an expert in established and emerging healthcare IT markets. She has successfully launched more than a dozen new products, opened new markets, and developed broad market experience in executive roles with companies such as Practice Fusion, NextGen, Healthloop/Getwell Networks, Ginger.io and Allscripts. Bevey has been influential leading innovation in care coordination, patient engagement, population health and interoperability as well as advocating for policy change with federal and state government.