Health information technology needs to catch up with other industries in terms of customer service for patients, speakers said Thursday during an online session of the annual meeting of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS).
“There are some areas where they’re ahead, like artificial intelligence,” said Stacey Shulman, vice president of the Internet of Things Group and general manager for health, life sciences, and emerging technologies at Intel. But in many other ways they are far behind. “As consumers, we’ve been able to do banking on our mobile phone for a long time, and we’ve been able to get all the information about our DNA via computer and on our mobile phones, but we can’t get information from our last x-ray from a lot of healthcare providers today … In terms of getting data to the patient and getting them their own information, healthcare is still quite a ways behind on that.”
Raj Desai, vice president for product at Kaiser Permanente, generally agreed. “I wouldn’t say 20 years behind, but there’s a huge opportunity to bring ‘digital first’ capabilities to members because that’s really what they expect today, and they’re learning from retail and now that’s just spanning into healthcare,” he said.
One problem that healthcare has to overcome is its legacy solutions, said Shulman, who previously worked for the apparel industry, as well as in software design for retail companies. “I see risk aversion in every industry that I’ve been a part of,” she said. “And an additional complexity in the healthcare industry is that if you want to modernize your medical equipment, that modernization takes quite a long time.” The industry needs to start thinking more about investment into foundational technologies that allow them to get out of this; for example, it can “borrow from the cloud companies out there — the innovations in companies like Amazon — and learn from that.”
Sven Gieringer, senior vice president and chief experience officer at Northwell Health, said that in his health system, “we have an innovation challenge every year; we copied the ‘Shark Tank’ approach … We actually award two ideas with half a million dollars each for development.” That contest “generates an enormous amount of energy around innovation every year,” he added.
Desai said his team at Kaiser focuses on “getting extremely close to the member experience,” including member “pain points” like the plan’s call center. “They have expertise in how to creatively think through those problems and bring the technology and innovation to the forefront.”
Bringing the patients themselves into the process is also important, according to Gieringer. “We do a ton of that, from standing patient committees at every hospital but also at the service lines where we bring patients into the decision-making process,” he said. In addition, “we have in place these digital consumer input groups where we can quickly survey up to 1,000 people … During COVID it was extremely helpful to us in terms of how we could pivot, and make sure that we deliver the solutions that they’re looking for.”
In fact, when it comes to innovation, COVID has been a learning experience for everyone. “You can talk to any family member, and they started using terms like PCR and LAMP [loop-mediated amplification tests], and we started getting ourselves educated in the medical space more than we ever really had,” said Shulman. “Some of the silver lining is that there was this new reawakening over taking more control over our own health, as an individual … That’s going to drive this additional trend of people wanting more access to their health data and being a participant in their own care.”
Gieringer said he saw a lot of innovation coming from frontline caregivers early in the pandemic. “How quickly they thought of ideas to overcome the challenges was remarkable,” he said. For example, caregivers started putting IV pumps out in the hallway — with the lines going under the door — to minimize the number of times they had to enter patient rooms, and they also came up with a way that nurses were able to monitor patient echocardiograms from the nurses’ station. “I think that just sparked the spirit and I think that they will benefit from that for awhile.”
Desai said COVID “really forced the team to be nimble and agile in the way we responded” to patient demands — for example, they developed “a chatbot that could just go through initial symptoms when the general public didn’t really understand what is and is not deemed to be a COVID-19 symptom.”
What advice would they give to people new to the healthcare industry? “Words matter in the health industry, and you’ve got to really take a different approach to marketing,” Shulman said. “That was a big ‘aha’ moment for me on what you can say and what you can’t say. I’ve never had so many legal reviews of my words in any industry. If you’re getting into the health industry, know that you’ve got to be careful about the words that you use in describing your products, in describing your outcomes, in describing your visions and hopes for what you’re going to do.”
Gieringer had a slightly different take. “It’s obviously a highly regulated industry … Often people hide behind those regulations and use [them] as a shield or as a crutch, [but] when you ask the question several times, then you can find a way around that.”