The Responsibilities & Challenges of Merging Patient Quality Care & IT Leadership

By John Lynch | June 12, 2018

Do you remember the days when technology seemed like the most inhuman modern marvel in the world?

But now, in 2018, you rely on technology to stay connected to the people who you care about and who care about you, to document joyful memories with your family, and to get you out of a pinch in an emergency.

In a way, technology now serves to echo and amplify all that makes us so human.

Except when it comes to healthcare.

The IT Wall

While healthcare providers have gradually come around to implementing technology solutions in patient care, it seems to have driven a wedge between physicians and patients.

You go in for a visit with your physician. You sit in the patient room waiting for her to come in. If you are lucky, you get to shake her hand and exchange a few smiles. Then she sits at the computer and asks you questions while typing incessantly into the flat screen that seems to be growing bigger with every word you speak.

Soon, she leaves. And you feel a sinking feeling in your stomach. Not because you are worried about your health or you are anxiously awaiting test results. No – that sinking feeling is from feeling like you were just gypped out of some element that is so vital to the healthcare experience: human interaction, eye contact, the mutual reading of body language.

This is the experience for millions of patients and physicians around the world – and it is the reason why IT is getting such a bad name in the healthcare industry.

IT’s Reputation Facelift

For patients and physicians, the experience does not have to be that way. The IT solutions that were available 15 years ago were clumsy, clunky monstrosities compared to the potential that lies before us today. Now we have IT solutions that integrate beautifully with all the most important aspects of healthcare like compassion and maintaining high standards for quality of patient care.

In fact, according to a recent survey, “health IT leaders are keeping improvements to measuring patient care quality top of mind in 2018.” After polling more than 300 healthcare leaders in practice management, project management, director, and c-suite roles at various healthcare provider facilities, researchers found that “forty percent of respondents rated measuring improvement in patient care quality as the top business objective for the year ahead.”

Meanwhile, 40 percent of healthcare providers polled reported feeling overwhelmed by the newest Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act regulations. The study also found that “the most significant challenges IT leaders expect to face this year are optimizing IT and EHR performance (32 percent) and overcoming IT staff shortages (31 percent).”

Now, if only there were a way to find a perfect solution to marry stellar patient quality of care, seamless regulatory compliance, and a smooth, secure integration of IT solutions.

The IT Solution Venn Diagram

If you are like me, it has probably been a few decades since you last drew a Venn diagram with paper and pen, but I am sure you can still picture one clearly in your mind.

Envision a three-circle Venn diagram. Each circle represents a problem you are trying to solve at your healthcare facility. Circle #1 is patient quality of care. Circle #2 is regulatory compliance. Circle #3 is IT integration.

Now, visualize that perfect, tiny area where they all intersect. This area might be the smallest on your entire diagram, but it is the one that holds the most potential.

The trick to finding the solution that lives in this overlap area is simple: understand the needs of your organization.

Let me give you an example.

A few years ago I was serving as the interim CIO of a healthcare facility. The team of physicians was butting heads with the regulatory overseers of the facility because the physicians had a habit of texting one another when time was of the essence in critical patient cases.

Now, before you start gasping, we all know this is not HIPAA-approved. However, the physicians felt compelled by their own Hippocratic Oaths to prioritize patient care and life-saving measures over technology blunders.

Prior to my arrival, the physicians were simply told, “No, you can’t do that,” but they were never given an alternative solution to their problem.

I sat down with the physicians to understand what problems they were trying to solve: delivering optimum patient care, saving lives, communicating critical information when seconds matter. They always had their phones on them, but they were not always near a computer. So turning to text messaging felt more in line with their duties than running around trying to find a portal to login to the facility’s secure email system and waiting by the computer for a response.

After speaking with the IT Steering Committee and the other members of the c-suite, we decided to implement a secure physician-to-physician texting software that was both HIPAA compliant (so the regulatory powers that be were happy) and allowed the doctors to send and receive crucial messages to skyrocket patient quality of care.

Win, win.

All it took to find that sweet spot where all three circles overlapped was understanding the true needs of each party involved.

Rather than trying to put an end to a behavior, we found an IT solution that allowed the physicians’ preferred method of communication to fall in line with all the red tape surrounding the process.

One thing I have come to realize about IT solutions is that virtually anything is possible if you are willing to be open and creative with your options.

Although IT can still feel a bit cold at times, it is what we make it. If we embrace the limitless potential of IT solutions and proactively seek out solutions for a clear list of needs, we can achieve anything.

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