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Healthcare Digitization: Looking to the Future

November 1, 2022
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As healthcare organizations incorporate technological solutions into their daily operations, it's imperative that they outline their intended goals. In the 7th Annual Becker's Health IT + Digital Health + RCM Annual Meeting, held virtually October 10 to 12, panelists discussed what digital technology in healthcare will look like in the next decade.  

The “What Healthcare Needs Most from Digital Tech in the Next Decade” panel began by discussing the biggest priority as it relates to technology and digital assets. “The biggest thing we are doing right now is taking an inventory,” said Brian Dobosh, MBA, vice president of Digital Health Systems at RWJBarnabas Health System. According to Dobosh, RWJBarnabas Health System is the largest and most comprehensive healthcare delivery system in New Jersey—with twelve hospitals located throughout the state. Therefore, an extensive analysis of its operational structure is important for care optimization. “We really wanted to look at the tools we had to help the patient journey and find out what we needed,” Dobosh said. “We wanted to look at our EHR [electronic health record]…first and grow from there because there are a lot of tools within that system that we can harness and there are things that are coming.”  

Sara Vaezy—senior vice president and chief digital strategy officer at Providence—emphasized growth as the focus of her health system’s efforts. “The lessons that we have learned from other industries is that, in non-digitally native industries, the key area that digital transformation yields the greatest value is around generating, aggregating, and capturing demand,” she said. According to Vaezy, scaling patient retention efforts and leveraging digital data to drive engagement is an important part of Providence’s mission.  

In contrast, Aaron Miri, MBA, FCHIME, CHCIO, senior vice president and chief digital & information officer at Baptist Health seeks to leverage technology to manage the overwhelming demand for clinician services in Florida. “About a thousand people a day move to Florida, and about a hundred a people a day move to northern Florida,” he said. “This has put demand through the roof, with patients facing increased difficulties in obtaining an appointment with a primary care provider.”  

Miri admits that exceeding the amount of expected annual visits is a benefit for most healthcare systems because it can be a vehicle to facilitate growth. And amid that growth, Miri asserts that healthcare systems must be proactive if they wish to become true digital healthcare organizations. “You have to go an inch wide and a mile deep, meaning you’re truly understanding what your capabilities are, and you build omnichannel capabilities that are necessary for that intake [and] all the way through discharge,” he said. According to Miri, partnerships across the care continuum are vital. “You cannot leave revenue cycle out of the conversation when you are talking about digitization—it is part of the parcel,” he said. “The same applies to the infrastructure and clinical analytics departments.”  

Robotics and Machine Learning 

Additionally, Miri believes that machine learning and robotics are buzz words that continue to circulate among healthcare professionals. Dobosh echoed this sentiment, revealing that RWJBarnabas is frequently approached by technology vendors that are eager to provide these services. While many may want to implement these new technologies right away, ensuring each is properly implemented and used is crucial to improving healthcare delivery and revenue growth.  “A lot of times, the vendor community does not understand the importance of establishing a return on investment or affecting the top line growth,” Miri said. “At Baptist Health, we got away from the principle of chasing [the] shiny toys and, instead, focused on our core competencies and capabilities.”  

In pursuit of this value, Miri announced that Baptist Health recently launched a robotic and logistic assistance, eight-month pilot program. “There is a dearth of nurses in the industry. We cannot hire nurses fast enough,” he said. To really support nationwide staffing shortages, Miri suggested that given how other industries have leveraged robotic assistance for a long time, there is no reason healthcare can’t do the same. “We want to empower nurs[ing] and clinical staff to get back to the bedside and not have to do the remedial things they are forced to do because there is not enough staff,” he explained.  

While each panelist expressed their certainty that robotics and machine learning have a key role to play in the future of healthcare, they expressed the distrust clinicians have toward these technological solutions. “We still need to evaluate it [and] give it more time to grow,” Dobosh said. “We need clinicians to be a part of that process.”   

According to Dobosh, healthcare organizations must factor the patient and clinician experience when they’re seeking out technological solutions. “Without our patients and clinicians having good experiences with these digital tools, what are we doing?” he asked. “There are patients in the communit[ies] we are serving who have no digital equity. We need to close those gaps and enhance the experience with these tools.” 

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