What Healthcare Can Learn From Other Industries About Technology Transformation: Q&A With SourceMedical's Greg Comrie
"I think I've met my calling in that I've been able to leverage how other industries use technology to differentiate their businesses for healthcare," says Mr. Comrie.
Mr. Comrie discusses how other industries, most notably the financial industry, have handled technology transformations and what lessons healthcare can learn from them today.
Q: What similarities do you see between the healthcare and finance industries? How does that inform us about where healthcare technology trends are heading?
Greg Comrie: Primarily that both industries have gone through radical changes to be more consumer- or patient-centric. When financial services began implementing more information technology, they went down the road of compliance — they needed to encrypt credit card information and address the exchange of information — just as we now do in healthcare. The financial industry saw these changes a while ago and they still have some challenges with hackers, but now their standards of security are even greater than we have in healthcare. I believe that healthcare will expand its mandatory requirements for compliance to become more like financial services.
When we look at the evolution of analytics and business intelligence, starting with banking in the mid-1980s, you see they did their homework in the consumer segment. Because of years of technology investments, they know whether an individual is over 50 or under 30 years old and accordingly target campaigns to send them information about 401ks, mortgages, etc. They understand buying behavior, and we can translate that experience into healthcare where we are now investing significantly to be more patient-centric.
With patient records being digitized now, data will be mined more quickly and easily to make adjustment that will improve clinical outcomes. Administratively, similar data can be mined to increase revenues. Imagine ASCs and hospitals knowing what segment each patient is in so they can upsell a hospital suite instead of a shared room that might interest patients.
Q: Healthcare is a unique environment with fraud and abuse. How does this compare to the financial segment?
GC: The financial industry has dealt with fraud investigations for years, but CMS is just now gaining significant traction in reducing fraud and many providers are dealing with fraudulent activity today. Historically, healthcare standards were treated more like guidelines and they weren't consistent from one group to the next. Now we are seeing more enforcement and standardization. In financial services, you are required to follow the standards and you don't deviate from it.
Q: How do you expect healthcare provider infrastructure to change as a result of new technology platforms?
GC: Right now, we are still really looking at how the data will change infrastructure going forward. Think about ATMs in the financial services industry; initially they were not profitable, but now they are a source of revenue for banks, not just a cost center. Even when we think of patient registration, we are seeing more kiosks become available to share information between healthcare facilities. They are localized now, but imagine if you had an USB drive with medical information from another facility which you could access with your current provider.
Mobile technology is also rapidly changing financial services. You can now pay at the retail point of sale via your mobile phone. Imagine the transformation that would occur in our patients' experience if they could pay before they leave the ASC and not receive an unnecessary bill later. Obviously, mobility and device portability is a key enabling technology for our platforms.
Q: What lessons can the healthcare industry learn from technology implementation in these other industries?
GC: It is important to know what business model you want to build. This will guide your technology investments. For instance, if you choose to compete with other providers based on a lower-cost service, then you will be less likely to invest early on in emerging technologies. However, if you want to compete by having the best product but not the lowest cost, then you will likely invest more quickly in both the clinical technologies, as well as the customer-experience technologies (e.g. mobile, portals).
A simple example is when a patient leaves a Kaiser plan they receive a USB drive with their records on it. Kaiser has invested in a simple technology built around the patient experience. Historically, the ownership of patient records was not primarily controlled by the patient. Of course, when it comes to healthcare, many consumers will pay above average when their health is involved.
Q: How can these lessons translate into healthcare? Are there any special considerations or key differences that should be taken into account?
GC: The technologies themselves are all applicable between the two industries. It is the supply chain that is different in healthcare in comparison to other industries. Healthcare is just now going through a transformation to be more patient-centric. If you think about the automotive industry, they use an assembly line to form raw materials and ship them along the process, finally stopping at the car dealership. The consumer knows how that works and where to go to purchase a car.
In healthcare, unlike other industries, it's not a straight line. Instead of starting with raw materials, you start with medical devices that are shipped to providers and hospitals, often purchased through group purchasing organizations, which places distributors in between them.
Then hospitals are visited by patients who may have individual insurance plans or belong to government or employer plans, and there isn't a straight line for services produced. It's difficult because patients get lost and confused in the process. We have difficulty navigating the choices and figuring out who is the best doctor for the lowest price. However, you can still pull apart each touch point and apply a technology to them.
Q: Based on what we know from the financial sector and other industries, how can we expect technology to impact healthcare in the future?
GC: Healthcare is quickly moving in the direction to be more securely interoperable. One day, the Nationwide Health Information Network (NHIN) will make it easier to pass information nationally between facilities and Accountable Care Organizations. Health Information Exchanges will also accelerate this transition. We won't see the real results from those efforts for a while, but we know that mature technologies exist and it is now up to the individual facilities to drive how quickly we move to an interconnected country.
Also, quality of care will be improved with faster data or better information, thus saving lives and money. That's the bottom line, and why we are going through this healthcare transformation today. Patients, physicians and governments will make better decisions about providing healthcare. Collaboration among physicians will improve and clinical trial results will be more quickly communicated back to researchers.
We are also seeing that the number one thing patients want to get out of social media platforms is the conversation with physicians. Medical homes and telehealth will also improve so hospitals and ASCs will be motivated to reduce length of stay. However, we need better technologies to manage those recoveries from afar.
Q: How can healthcare providers most effectively implement technology today and be ready for the new technology upgrades for tomorrow?
GC: Be diligent in your research before you purchase any new technology. Many ASCs or healthcare facilities don't have a large IT staff, so it's important to network with national organizations before you buy; don't just ask your neighbor what systems they purchased. There are more than 300 EMR software packages in the marketplace, and consolidation within the industry means some providers will be left without a company to support their software. Preferably, an acquiring company will continue support for all of the acquired products. This has certainly been and continues to be SourceMedical’s strategy.
The government has made money available for everyone to invest in the software, but some providers have chosen not to. I would encourage all ASC leaders to work with software programs that have strong financial backing and continue to invest in all of their platforms.
You must also remember your core competency is to deliver health solutions, not technology solutions. Leave that to an HIT expert to manage or host your systems. Flexibility is important when working with IT vendors and, it's better to have an integrated solution if you don't have an IT staff to integrate systems on your behalf.
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