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Technology to Transform the Healthcare Communication Landscape

26 May 2015 by Christine Kern

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One of the fundamental transformative powers of technology in healthcare is improving communication among providers, and between providers and patients. According to a recent study, 74% of those surveyed said that they wished their doctors exchanged information with each other; 45% said that they have had to act as go-betweens for doctors who were not connecting.

Almost half of all healthcare-related communication errors occur during handoffs between care providers, and the average Medicare beneficiary interacts with seven physicians in four different practices during a single year, producing an imperative to improve interoperability and communication channels in healthcare.

Telehealth has the potential to fundamentally change the communication process among providers, and between providers and patients, that exists today. Telehealth can remove the barriers of time and space in healthcare, increasing access to care, and forever improving provider and patient interactions. The ultimate result of this effort is increased patient satisfaction and improved outcomes.

In fact, Ken Research predicts the telehealth market is expected to grow to $38.5 billion in revenue by 2018, a compound annual growth rate of 32% from 2013-2018. The reasons for telehealth’s rapid growth are three-fold: telehealth is delivering results for patients and saving money; patient satisfaction with telehealth is very high; and consumers are demanding more convenient high-quality care, which today’s telehealth providers are delivering.

But does the reality meet the expectations?

Telemedicine in electronic health records

The adoption of EHRs, particularly when they link together records from multiple healthcare providers for complex cases, can be highly beneficial to patients (or their parents) in relieving the stress of undergoing care. One mother, Maureen Beuchert O’Brien, whose 3-year-old son, Alex, suffers from several congenital conditions, said “Alex’s specialists are all through Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh as is his pediatrician. This way, I always know that they are all seeing the same records, and there’s never any wait for them to be accessible. I don’t have to worry about getting copies of reports and when to have them sent. It’s one less thing I have to think about in my already-convoluted schedule.”

Telemedicine in surgery

While technology is also changing the healthcare landscape in surgery, it’s providing some challenges for the nurses who must adopt it.

Carrie Kern Knox, registered nurse at St. Vincent Hospital, a part of the Allegheny Health Network, explained, “While there is potential in the use of technology in healthcare, there is also tremendous room for improvement. Right now, it makes my job more difficult, at least until the proper services and products are in place to support true interoperability and identification of relevant information in a timely manner.”

One of the challenges of adopting the new technology is that, for operating room surgeons and nurses, time is of the utmost importance in dealing with EHRs and patient records. Nurses are responsible for prepping patients in a very short time frame. Every minute lost can ultimately mean thousands of dollars in charges for the hospital. EHRs have actually created “information overload,” which means that it takes more time to sort through the data to find the relevant pieces in a particular situation.

“When I’m prepping a patient for a hernia surgery, I really don’t need to see the report for every hang nail he ever had,” Knox said.

And from the perspective of the primary care physicians, Dr. Linda Girgis explains that while technology has the potential to change our healthcare landscape for the better, the reality has not yet kept pace with the theory.

“While EHRs have great potential to help our practices, for the most part this has not been the case,” Girgis said. “The majority of doctors feel that EHRs slow down our work flows and distracts us from taking care of our patients. Also, true interoperability has not been achieved and is a far way in the future. If it does occur, that would have a significant impact on the way we practice.”

The good news is that, with the proper tools and services in place, technology can have a transformative impact on healthcare communication, resulting in better patient outcomes and higher satisfaction ratings all around.

Healthcare is going to continue evolving, and you’ll need the technology to develop with it. We’re here to help you — from purchasing and implementation, all the way to improving patient care.