In a previous Physicians Practice blog post, I talked about how a majority of physicians and other healthcare providers feel the deployment of electronic health records (EHRs) has introduced new challenges to the provider-patient relationship at the point of care. I cited this belief as perhaps a reason why many physicians and health systems are hesitant to introduce additional new technology into their clinical environment.
While I understand the hesitancy to introduce new technology into the exam room, I think providers need to overcome these reservations and actively seek out high-tech solutions as a way to improve their operational workflow and enhance the quality of care they deliver. New technologies and software, along with greater connectivity and data analytics, are consistently demonstrating new capabilities for positively affecting many facets of healthcare today. While previous health information technology has introduced new challenges to the exam room experience, it is also technology that is poised to dramatically impact the point of care with enhanced provider-patient interactions and significantly improved clinical outcomes.
For instance, consider the technology advances that are helping bring greater connectivity to vital signs acquisition, such as blood pressure (BP) measurement. Caregivers can now take vital signs, review results and seamlessly import information into EHRs, eliminating manual input and reducing transcription errors. Additionally, the automation made possible by connected vital signs acquisition facilitates adherence to clinical guidelines for proper BP measurement techniques in order to achieve more accurate, consistent and reliable readings for all patients.
Now, I’m not advocating “technology for technology’s sake.” Technology needs to provide real value and must be tailored to the intricacies of your clinical environment. It must augment the way you and your patients interact and contribute to truly meaningful clinical insights for each encounter. The practice of medicine remains a deeply intimate human experience between two (or more) persons. It is this intimacy that engenders trust, and trust is an essential ingredient in any care plan. As a healthcare provider, you must ensure that digital solutions elevate that trust with patients while enhancing the clinical science.
William Osler, one of the founders of Johns Hopkins Hospital who is known as The Father of Modern Medicine, famously said, “Medicine is an art based on science.” In other words, ‘how’ care is delivered is just as important as ‘what’ type of care is delivered. With EMRs now firmly entrenched as a standard practice, providers must seek out solutions that leverage the powerful informatics available to create entirely new workflows, dramatic new efficiencies and improve provider-patient intimacy. With the digital science in a relatively mature state, it’s time to invest in the ‘how’ of care delivery.
Technology integration at the point of care needs to be guided by a roadmap and guardrails that help organizations realize tangible benefits. Following are five considerations vital to help ensure a truly seamless deployment of new technology at the point of care.
1. Compatibility – This consideration gets to the very heart of technology integration. Challenges in the early stages of implementation often occur when the technology is not a good fit for the environment or application. In order to make an informed technology decision, you need to evaluate technologies within the context of your current clinical environment and how it performs, as well as any business objectives and growth strategies. Will existing workflows need to be changed? How does it impact the provider-patient experience? Is it flexible enough for projected growth? What value does it offer to the quality of care provided?
2. Exam Room Workflow – When it comes to your point of care workflows, there are two ways to look at the technology in question. The first is to determine how the technology would fit into your existing workflows. What adjustments would need to be made? Would any workflows be improved or need to be eliminated? Would the technology require the creation of a new workflow? The second is to determine if the technology would help you enhance existing workflows. For instance, real-time locating system (RTLS) technology provides insight into how a clinical environment is performing. RTLS makes capturing accurate workflow data possible, including communicating in-the-moment patient and staff locations, wait times and staff interactions, as well as providing a vast amount of retrospective detail.
3. Connectivity – Technology advances are bringing us closer to realizing a fully connected digital ecosystem where point of care processes, equipment and caregivers are integrated to help enhance the care delivery experience for you and your patients. As you look at new technology, it is important to determine the level of connectivity it offers and how it will connect with the digital ecosystem you are creating. Are there any additional technology or software requirements? For instance, technology that introduces a new level of connectivity to vital signs acquisition would require workflow changes but could minimize human variations and inefficiencies by normalizing and automating the process.
4. Delivery and Setup – Coordinating equipment and technology deliveries to outpatient facilities is often complicated by the absence of receiving personnel, unloading and staging areas, and tools. Without proper installation or integration, promised performance levels and benefits may fall short of expectations. Facility operations or provider-patient interaction could be disrupted. You need to ask your equipment or technology vendor if they offer delivery setup and/or integration teams that can seamlessly connect the equipment or technology into your unique clinical environment. Also, without specialized product knowledge, detailed planning and careful coordination, these deliveries can become a serious headache.
5. Staff Engagement – The fact that almost no one likes change is a basic trait of human nature that must be considered during technology implementations. When managed properly, the initial reaction some staff may have to the changes introduced by new technologies can be effectively minimized and eventually eliminated as they gain an understanding of the value of the solution to your clinical environment and patients. This means letting your staff know what’s coming, answering questions, addressing concerns and explaining benefits. It also means offering structured, hands-on training with the technology and an opportunity to share feedback during the early stages of implementation.
Once healthcare providers accept that technology integration is a necessary part of the continued evolution of care delivery, these five considerations will help properly integrate the right technology that will enhance the clinical environment and the care provided to patients.
Dr. Tom Schwieterman practiced family medicine for 12 years before joining the team at Midmark. As vice president of clinical affairs and chief medical officer, he leads the company’s focus on innovative technology and new approaches that enrich experiences between caregivers and their patients at the point of care.