Emphasis must be put on technology strategies that ensure greater integration and interoperability of solutions, such as EHRs, imaging platforms and clinical diagnostic decision-making support tools, so that hospitals can effectively meet value-based care objectives while improving their own financial health.
To say that hospitals and health systems have had to do more with less in the past 18 months is the understatement of a lifetime. These organizations have faced more than their fair share of unexpected challenges – from spiking patient demand, increasing costs and lost revenue, to overworked staff, a downturn in elective procedures and the need to quickly add virtual care services – all resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, they have been navigating the move to value-based care, which is a cataclysmic shift in the way hospitals historically operate.
Contributing to these challenges has been a systemic lack of interoperability between systems and data. To reduce costs, drive greater efficiency that enables providers to focus more on delivering care, and improve patient outcomes, hospitals need to be able to break down the information silos that have developed amongst their various departments.
Emphasis now must be put on technology strategies that ensure greater integration and interoperability of solutions, such as electronic health records (EHRs), imaging platforms and clinical diagnostic decision-making support tools, so that hospitals can effectively meet value-based care objectives while improving their own financial health.
Overcoming Hospital Financial Challenges with Innovative Technology
Studies show hospitals lost $322 billion in 2020, and more than half of hospitals and health systems were experiencing negative operating margins by the end of last year. Further, projections estimate hospitals could lose as much as another $122 billion in revenue this year.
While revenues are starting to bounce back from the historic lows at the height of the pandemic, the American Hospital Association has noted that the demand for outpatient services is still waning as patients continue to avoid non-emergent healthcare needs. One area hit particularly hard during COVID-19 is imaging departments, which have seen a significant drop in volumes as patients put off routine procedures, including mammograms, cardiac scans and MRIs. In fact, anecdotal evidence suggests that scan volume last year was 50% to 80% below expected levels.
Contributing to the financial crisis is the continued increase of costs, which credit rating agencies Fitch and Moody's both have said could dull the overall financial outlook for healthcare.
With such a dire outlook, many hospitals and health systems may be apprehensive to invest in technology -- but to overcome these near-term financial challenges, improve the hospital business model and be strongly positioned to drive value-based care, hospitals must consider making strategic investments in technology to redesign processes that can help streamline workflows, improve productivity and give medical staff complete patient insights to support better decision making.
The New Economics of Technology Interoperability and Integration
New gadgets and cutting-edge technologies can be great additions to any healthcare organization, but the cost can quickly outweigh the benefits if these technologies do not easily integrate into existing processes -- or if they create extra work for already overtaxed healthcare professionals.
When considering technology investments, hospitals need solutions that automate mundane, time-consuming tasks and provide greater insights about -- and access to -- patient information. In these cases, technology does not create extra work. Instead, it frees up providers to do their core job: treating patients and improving care, a key tenet to value-based care.
For this reason, today’s hospital leaders are looking at broader platforms that can bring together a variety of solutions, rather than purchasing technologies that only serve one purpose. In imaging departments, rather than investing in singular radiology solutions, hospitals are seeking greater economies of scale through deployment of broader platforms that contain an end-to-end suite of software and services. Use of such a neutral platform that consolidates multiple systems can further optimize workflows and ultimately improve patient care.
This approach also enables the hospital to provide a central archive for all images and makes it easier for any healthcare professional to access results, collaborate with specialists and quickly make treatment decisions. Improving imaging operations infuses greater efficiency across hospital operations, since imaging impacts emergency departments, operating rooms, patients admitted to the hospital and those receiving outpatient services.
Integrating imaging into this type of core platform also unlocks the promise of teleradiology. In the not-too-distant past, patients relied solely on their local doctors to review and interpret images. Now, through a neutral platform and cloud-based access, patients can have their images examined and interpreted by leading experts anywhere in the world as fast as it may have taken a local doctor just a few years ago. These capabilities also play a role in value-based care going forward, giving patients in rural or underserved areas better access to high-quality healthcare diagnostics and treatments.
As the COVID-19 pandemic eases and hospitals return their focus to achieving value-based care, one key to success will be driving greater interoperability across the entire organization. Implementation of platforms that can connect EHRs, clinical decision support, imaging and other facets will improve workflows, taking the burden off providers so they can focus on patient care. A greater emphasis on the provider-patient relationship, combined with automated solutions that provide deeper insights and tools that support an ease of collaboration, will enable hospitals to achieve consistently better outcomes, in turn strengthening the financial health of our nation’s healthcare organizations.
Mike Lipps is Chief Executive Officer of Intelerad Medical Systems. With over 20 years of software industry and leadership experience at companies such as Intuit, LexisNexis and insightsoftware, he has a proven track record of driving transformative growth for customers by applying technology to solve complex challenges.