In particular, medical laboratories and pathology groups should be doing better at using information technology to meet the needs of consumers and to support physician workflow
Improving patient-provider communication and speeding clinician workflow are two of the top 2014 game changers in healthcare information technology (HIT) cited by a recent report. Each of these top 2014 game changers can be expected to change how patients and physicians interact with their clinical laboratory and anatomic pathology providers.
The report was published by Becker’s Hospital Review. Of the top 10 2014 HIT game changers, Dark Daily considered the two mentioned as the most notable for medical laboratory managers and pathologists.
Consumers Want Electronic, Interactive Communication with Providers
Our first pick was ranked number six by Becker’s and was titled: “Patient impatience—The Rise of the Healthcare Consumer.” Consumers today can instantly buy a myriad of products or services and track a package or letter around the world in real time simply by using their smart phone or computer. However, consumers are generally limited to communicating—via phone or in person—with healthcare providers.
This is why patients now demand similar service from healthcare providers. They want better ways to interact with the healthcare system. In turn, this consumer demand is pushing HIT developers to create apps and devices that facilitate online, interactive communication between patients and their doctors and other healthcare providers.
A Forewarning for Clinical Laboratories and Pathologists
Clinical laboratories and pathology groups are forewarned about change in consumer expectations. To meet and exceed the expectations of patients, all medical laboratories should be adapting their information technology to make it faster and easier for patients to conduct business with their laboratory provider.
Additionally, patients are sick of dealing with the deluge of paperwork requested by hospitals, physicians, and laboratories. This is particularly true of the outmoded medical history questionnaire, noted the Becker’s Hospital Review story, which went on to suggest that this too is likely to change in the near future.
A recent Harris Interactive poll revealed the following:
- The majority of consumers consider online, interactive tools for communicating with healthcare provides “important” or “very important,” but relatively few providers offer such services.
- Only about 12% of patients report having email access to their doctors.
- Just 10% of patients report access to online billing and payment services, and just 11% can make appointments online.
- The most common online healthcare interaction described involves medical records, with 17% reporting access.
Majority of Consumers Want a Healthcare Cost Estimator
The biggest gap between consumer desire and fulfillment, noted the Harris poll, is a healthcare cost estimator. Three in five patients participating in the survey reported that this service unavailable to them, while 62% of respondents described it as “very important” or “important.” Again, pathologists and clinical laboratory managers should take note. Patients want to know the prices of their lab tests in advance of service!
Moreover, the Becker’s Hospital Review report pointed out that high use of patient portals—where available—and the popularity of consumer-focused, online healthcare services, like iTriage and WebMD, is further proof of consumers’ interest and desire for these types of services.
Further, with today’s HIT evolving toward wider use of electronic health record systems, it should be easier for hospitals, physicians and clinical laboratories to eliminate the heaps of paperwork and duplication inherent in manual, paper-based recordkeeping systems. This would not only lower costs and reduce preventable medical errors, but would enable providers to better meet patients’ expectations for speedy, accurate healthcare services.
Improving Workflow is Critical to Better Care and Lower Costs
Our second HIT game-changer pick on the Becker’s Hospital Review list was the tenth item, which was described as “Workflow-enabling technology solutions.” This refers to the growing impetus for HIT developers to create tools that speed workflow. This trend should be of particular interest to medical laboratory professionals. That’s because labs must support improved workflow for physicians and contribute to improved productivity.
Technology solutions that enable optimal workflow are the most important issue for HIT in the foreseeable future, suggested the Becker’s Hospital Review article. It noted that, while technology capabilities have increased, so has user dissatisfaction. One reason is because technology solutions traditionally were geared to address just technology requirements. “User requirements” were typically not part of the equation, since HIT departments primarily focused on assessing the need for software applications, then built the infrastructure needed to support those functions.
How Information Technology Solutions Often Created Complexity
Becker’s provided the example of a new radiology program that might require an increase in reading workstations for radiologists to read test results. The program could also require different configurations and additional user devices for ancillary staff, along with the need for much wider network bandwidth and data storage to transmit and store all the images. HIPAA security requirements have to be layered on top of all that.
Adding to the complexity is the fact that pharmacy, emergency room, med/surg, and other HIT applications would typically have totally different storage, computing and user device needs. All of them would also require the HIPAA security infrastructure.
Though HIT solutions may look good on paper, their developers have rarely taken a holistic, system-wide approach to ensure solutions not only function as intended, but are also efficient and user-friendly. That is, these HIT applications do not add to the physician’s workload nor hinder workflow.
HIT Developers Need to Work with Clinical Stakeholders
Becker’s Hospital Review pointed out that, to achieve these goals, HIT developers and their executive teams must work with clinical and business stakeholders to create HIT solutions that address these practical issues. In its view, clinician workflow is the one area that ties everything in the healthcare environment together.
The good news for HIT is that end-to-end technology solutions are now available to address all of these issues, including HIPAA security, bring-your-own-device, medical-grade cloud services, mobility, desktop virtualization, patient access tools and interoperability. But adopting tools to improve workflow will require a different mindset and skillset than are possessed by most hospital and medical group IT departments and their outside partners.
Similarly, the good news for clinical laboratory managers and pathologists is that advanced health information technology can be deployed within their own lab organizations specifically to meet changing patient expectations, while supporting the needs of client physicians for optimal workflow.
—By Patrica Kirk