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Beyond EMRs: Looking at Technology Challenges Facing the Healthcare Industry

Updated June 19, 2019

For physician practices, diagnostic centers, and hospitals across the country (and even the globe) the implementation of Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) is clearly the most pressing, time-consuming, and expensive IT priority.  These are complex deployments that take a lot of time and attention to make successful. What’s being lost is that there are many other IT issues to be tackled by Healthcare providers.  In this article, we look at several other areas and issues in need of attention to improve operations and ultimately, patient care.

Don’t forget about Collaboration and Productivity Tools

In the rush to implement EMRs, it’s easy to forget that your core systems, the systems that you rely on for day-to-day operations, need to be modernized at some point. We’re talking about email, information portals, document management, chat-based communication tools, and storage solutions (to name just a few).  Many healthcare providers still have older systems operating on-premises; this means your modernization decisions may be coming sooner than you think as technology vendors like Microsoft (think email and office applications) provide incentives for organizations to modernize onto their cloud-based applications.

Should You Move to the Cloud?

Depending on the size of your business (healthcare provider, insurer, hospital…it really doesn’t matter), most people are wondering how the cloud fits into the healthcare technology landscape.  Many have already begun the digital transformation. EMRs themselves have different deployment models; they can reside on-premises or in the cloud. While it should be self-evident, cloud computing solutions are no riskier than deploying solutions within your own infrastructure. In fact, it can be argued they are more secure for most healthcare providers; especially for small and mid-size practices that don’t have the resources to effectively secure, monitor, and operate a highly-secure IT infrastructure.

As your systems require modernization, cloud-based solutions should be the default choice for most healthcare providers.  There is no inherent reason not to adopt cloud-based solutions across the board. In fact, email, storage, and collaboration/productivity solutions are among the easiest ways to adopt proven cloud tools when it comes time to modernizing your core IT. So, while most of us are rightfully worried about EMRs, other IT modernization is a constant worry; moving email, collaboration and productivity tools to the cloud should be a no-brainer; it almost always pays off to get out of the IT infrastructure game.

Interoperability

This is a fancy name for systems being able to communicate and exchange information across systems.  As EMRs are adopted, there is often an assumption that it will take care (all by itself) of a great deal of everyday needs reducing the need for other IT tools and investments.  In many respects this is true; EMRs help with a myriad of tasks associated with patient care. But regardless of how much your EMR really provides, there are always other systems out there that you need to communicate with. Email, Practice Management Solutions, General Ledgers…all of these systems contain information that you need to run your business and deliver high quality care.  So, while EMRs do a lot…they don’t do everything.  In fact, there is a clear trend of data being siloed (contained and restricted) to single applications that don’t easily communicate with other systems.  And despite recent efforts to standardize how to communicate across systems (notably the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources or FHIR effort), this is a problem.  As new technology solutions are adopted, it is important to understand what is contained in each solution and how information can be extracted and combined with information in other systems.  Despite the enormous capabilities of EMRs, you will have critical information in other systems and need to know how to get to it and combine it with information in other systems.

Data, Data, Data

As EMRs, Practice Management Solutions and upgraded email and collaboration tools are adopted, healthcare providers become swamped with data about patients, operations, and finances.  All of these new capabilities generate new sources of information.  However, there is good news in all of this; while data is being generated in ever increasing volumes and stored in different systems, it has never been easier to analyze the data you have. Modern analytics tools like Power BI, Qlik, Tableau, Looker, and Domo (there are many more) allow you to combine and analyze data to create visually appealing, interactive, and up-to-date reports (instead of relying on spreadsheets emailed around the office). This is truly transformative. New systems are designed to capture data.  The focus now is learning how to leverage data across these systems to gain insights into your business and patients.

Managed Services

As you move to the cloud, other opportunities to streamline your IT will become evident.  This is especially true for smaller providers; as your systems move to the cloud, your IT footprint will shrink.  Whatever is left-behind (devices, networks, perhaps a few on-premises applications) will still need to be managed. Even with the inevitable transformation to the cloud, your end-users will still have password problems, their devices will fail, get lost or get stolen. As this happens, out-sourcing the management of your IT becomes more attractive simply because there is much less to manage; it is very likely someone else can do it for you for less money than your spending now.

The areas discussed above are just some of the core IT challenges facing healthcare providers in addition to implementing EMRs. The good news is that new tools and capabilities are out there…especially tools to help combine and analyze the ever-increasing amounts of data being generated by those systems.  But as new tools become available, getting the most out of them and managing them becomes even more important.

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