It’s an understatement to say that the coronavirus crisis has significantly disrupted the U.S. healthcare system. In fact, many in the industry are discovering that their current healthcare workflows have been inadequate to fully respond to the pandemic.
Hospitals and health systems are having to deal with new challenges on nearly all fronts:
- a massive influx of patient care and requests
- an immediate need for virtual intake and services
- the need to streamline all of the new processes with the increased demand
Patients are demanding digital convenience, remote touchpoints, and telehealth.
Speeding into the digital-first era
Not surprisingly, the demands of the coronavirus pandemic have accelerated more healthcare organizations into the digital-first era. For some, it’s much sooner than they had anticipated.
Now is a perfect time for our health systems to think differently about how they operate. And to explore what digital strategies can be implemented to invoke swift, systematic and smart changes. Changes that ensure if and when a pandemic or other health crises strike again, the system is ready and prepared.
It usually takes any industry a substantial amount of time and resources to inculcate changes. However, the U.S. healthcare system has had to rapidly evolve during this crisis in ways that will set precedent for the future.
Along with foundational changes to coverage and government assistance services, virtual healthcare interactions through telehealth or telemedicine services, in particular, have skyrocketed. In fact, in response to a March 2020 MGMA poll, 97% of medical practice leaders answered yes to the question: “Has your practice expanded telehealth access amid COVID-19?”
The continued evolution of healthcare
The healthcare industry, in particular, has had to be vigilant about keeping up with the constant innovations and upgrades related to technological solutions. This is true whether it is staying ahead of ransomware hackers or more efficiently transferring files to work towards true interoperability.
Pointing towards the role of COVID-19 in galvanizing rapid adaptation in the industry further is the recent revisions of regulations, such as the Center of Medicaid and Medicare (CMS)’s expansion of its coverage of telehealth services.
With the help of technology, organizations must also focus on automating routine and redundant processes to boost workflows.
In this next era of digitization, there will be a continued emphasis on:
- Reducing administrative burden for all medical professionals by creating efficient, smart and integrated systems
- Adapting to changing patient demands
- Adopting new staff policies to accommodate a remote workforce
Transformational technologies that we need today
Undoubtedly, technology serves as a catalyst for advancing healthcare and aids all facets of the industry. The global pandemic is already changing healthcare technology and expanding its application across space including,
- rising telehealth services
- shifts in billing regulations, and even the
- use of location tracking to monitor the disease.
These shifts in the healthcare system are indicative of bigger trends that will remain imprinted after the current crisis. Whether it results from patients realizing the convenience of telehealth or providers learning more effective treatment plans, some changes will likely to be irreversible.
Technologies that will endure long after the pandemic are ones that not only integrate with current systems but also promote interoperability and administrative and operational efficiency.
Related Content: Poor Payer Reimbursement and Practice Viability during COVID-19
Automating healthcare administrative workflows
Most health organizations are pursuing large-scale digital transformation efforts right now. However, many still fail to capture the benefits of foundational digital “basics” like digitizing and automating administrative tasks and workflows.
For example, using electronic medical forms to collect and share healthcare information eliminates tedious paper-based processes and creates exceptional patient experiences. Connecting it with workflow automation allows health organizations to share data with doctors and across departments by streamlining patient onboarding, billing, patient records, and notes.
Here are a few recent examples from my organization, Formstack, of healthcare organizations that are using digital and workflow automation tools to adapt to COVID-19 changes and improve operations:
- Using HIPAA-compliant forms, Goodland Regional Medical Center set up digital COVID-19 screening for all its patients, vendors, and staff.
- Michigan’s Mercy Health developed an online interactive COVID-19 risk assessment platform to help people assess symptoms and review care recommendations.
- Sling Health implemented a “drive-thru screening” form to identify the most urgent and at-risk patients.
- Indiana Health Group optimized scheduling workflows by adding QR codes to forms, effectively completing patient/physician referrals in less than a minute.
Using technologies, like these to simplify such tasks can reduce patient wait times and improve staff efficiency by giving them time to focus on higher priority tasks rather than tedious paperwork. Smart technology can also support timely alerts (in advance) and follow up for patients, as well as provide them a holistic view of their visit, treatment, and bills.
The pandemic has spurred the adoption of these technologies in order to help relieve an overloaded system. The changes not only help in the immediate crisis with administration and patient experience but build a stronger foundation for the future.
Beyond COVID-19: Adopting operational efficiency technology for all stakeholders
Most medical records have already been shifted from paper to electronic health records (EHRs). Now, the pandemic has expedited the shift into adopting close to 100% digital communications. This is likely to continue beyond COVID-19.
Patients now expect streamlined experiences to make up for reduced physical interactions. Secure portals that facilitate the transfer of confidential information will become even more important, including, HIPAA-compliant electronic medical forms that encrypt patient data, control access to sensitive information, and track user activity.
A few questions come to mind when thinking through the cost-benefit analysis of various digital tools for manual administrative tasks:
- What are some of the ongoing and recurring challenges at a particular medical facility?
- Which departments and functions require the most rapid automated efficiency?
- What technological tools in the market can be easily integrated into existing systems?
With trying to answer these questions, healthcare organizations’ main priority is to create the best experience for all stakeholders at a reduced cost, specifically:
- Patients need a better, overall experience which can be created through effective methods to complete paperwork, reduce wait times and more
- The medical staff needs a more efficient and flexible workplace that optimizes operations
- Physicians need prompt processes and less administrative burden in order to avoid burnout
Medical facilities and professionals need to invest in digital tools and processes for business continuity, now more than ever. This is necessary to continue to strengthen the foundation of the U.S. healthcare system. It will also help us prepare in case of future disruptions.
Adhering to the best practices above and implementing new technologies is key to improving overall efficiency to drive business and create exceptional patient and clinician experiences.
The Formstack COVID-19 Relief Program
We want to help responders quickly collect essential information during this crisis. Therefore, we’re offering a free Formstack Forms HIPAA plan to all qualified US-based healthcare, government, and nonprofit organizations. This will allow the automation of critical tasks and the collection of data from patients, employees, and volunteers. Our process involves the use of HIPAA compliant forms that can be created and shared anywhere. To learn more and apply, click here.
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Financial disclosure: The author is the CEO of Formstack. TDWI has not received any compensation from the company for the publication of this article.