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Digital Transformation in Healthcare: Benefits, Challenges, and More Questions Answered for 2021

The term “digital transformation” regularly comes up in discussions about using technology to increase efficiency and improve performance through cloud-based service models. But for many healthcare providers, technology can feel more like a burden than a benefit. Your focus is caring for patients, and technology simply needs to serve that purpose. Digital transformation in healthcare should be the solution, but it can also bring confusion and concerns.

We talked to Med Tech Solutions CEO Mona Abutaleb about the benefits of digital transformation for healthcare providers, as well as its challenges. Here, we answer your digital transformation questions on how it can help you meet their goals for providing care and growing your business, and what you should expect from your technology partners.

Q: Does “digital transformation” just mean moving to the cloud, or is there more to it?

Mona Abutaleb: Sometimes people confuse the real work of digital transformation with just moving from paper to the cloud. But in many ways, the move to the cloud is the easy part. For us, digital transformation in healthcare is the integration of digital technology into all areas of our clients’ practices. It’s how we help you fundamentally change how you operate and how you deliver value to your patients. 

This is often a cultural change, and that’s one of the reasons the healthcare market has lagged other industries in digital adoption. For our clients, the transformation sometimes means walking away from long-standing processes in favor of new practices that are still being defined. That became acutely clear to all of us with the COVID-19 outbreak and the accelerated need for telehealth solutions.

The key for us as a strategic technology partner is to help you achieve transformation—and its advantages—within your practice at a pace that works for your specific situation.

Q: How can healthcare organizations accomplish digital transformation?

MA: At MTS, we help them take a holistic view, similar to how a care provider looks at the full spectrum of a patient’s needs, not just a single symptom. This is the basis of our Practice-Centered Care services.

As a foundation, we offer hosting services on premise, in our private cloud, in the public cloud, or a hybrid cloud approach. With that open approach, we can help analyze your specific situation and budget so you can make the best hosting decision for your current and future needs. 

Moving beyond the IT infrastructure layer, we also provide extensive capabilities at the application layer for healthcare and business applications, especially the electronic health record (EHR) that is the center of every practice’s technology stack. And at the end-user level, we provide comprehensive IT support services both on premise and through our remote services to keep technology available and working for staff and providers. 

Overarching all of that is security and compliance. Because we are 100% focused on healthcare clients, we understand your unique regulatory requirements as well as your deep-seated commitment to protecting patients’ personal data. 

Our team takes the time to understand each client’s current environment and assess which technology improvements will ultimately allow you to improve patient outcomes. But we don’t stop at the implementation of an environment. 

Our services include strategic guidance and consulting at every phase of our client relationships. While our employees are technologists, they also come from clinical backgrounds. That combined knowledge lets us provide the healthcare-specific business and technology guidance our clients need every step of the way.  

Q: What are healthcare organizations’ most-pressing digital transformation questions? 

MA: Let’s think of those questions in terms of opportunities. Their most compelling digital transformation opportunities center around value-based care capabilities and patient engagement data delivery. 

Value-based care has a significant impact on a healthcare provider’s ability to be reimbursed by insurance providers and the Medicare system. In many ways, value-based care is linked to the digital transformation journey because it is a fundamental change to the way care has traditionally been delivered and in the business processes healthcare providers have traditionally tracked and measured. Like many things in the technology space, it centers around the ability to capture and report on data. 

Providers are required to demonstrate that the quality of care continues to show three key outcomes: how you delivered care that was better for the individual, better for the population, and at a lower cost. The ability for providers to deliver that information systematically can be challenging. What MTS delivers is the underlying technology to gather that data. More importantly, the technology supports the business processes to collect, store, and produce the data so you can receive payments based on the quality, rather than the quantity of care delivered to patients.  

Q: Beyond value-based care, what about patient engagement—the other element you mentioned?

MA: Patient engagement is another critical part of successful healthcare. Increasing patient knowledge and understanding encourages them to become actively engaged in their own well-being and making healthcare choices that lead to improved care and fewer emergency room visits. In addition to improving care, patient engagement also has financial benefits for providers as it reduces no-shows, increases provider revenue, and improves the provider-patient relationship.  

Healthcare consumers expect providers to understand their individual wants and needs—the services provided are deeply personal. Personalization is essential to patient engagement: if you don’t know the personal attributes of your patients, your engagement strategy is going to be basic and ineffective. 

With our consulting services, MTS helps providers use the EHR and practice management systems (PMS) to collect, organize, and analyze patient data such as demographics, psychographics, social media activity, behavioral patterns, clinical history, office interactions, etc. This data lets you generate 360-degree views of patients, giving you the insight you need to deploy patient engagement efforts effectively. These business processes, along with the technology, enable healthcare organizations to deliver value-based care that is truly patient-centric.

Q: You mentioned telehealth earlier, and certainly, any discussion of technology in healthcare must address that. How does that fit into digital transformation?

MA: Telehealth and remote services such as videoconferencing, store-and-forward imaging, streaming media, and terrestrial and wireless communications, have become even more critical to our clients since COVID-19. 

But it’s important to remember that telehealth is more than telemedicine. The Health Resources Services Administration defines telehealth as the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support long-distance clinical healthcare, patient and professional health-related education, public health, and health administration. 

All aspects of the IT services that MTS provides are a part of telehealth, and we’re increasingly working with our clients to develop traditional and non-traditional ways to deliver telehealth services to patients. This is an area that has seen slow growth traditionally, but we believe it will be an accelerating area of growth as we move forward.

Q: What about security, especially in the wake of recent reports of ransomware and other breaches of healthcare organizations?

MA: Security is the basis for the trust between patient and provider, and between us and our clients. It’s absolutely critical, especially as the healthcare industry continues to be one of the most-targeted industries by cyber-attackers who are identifying opportunities to breach and exploit providers’ health IT systems. That’s why security is woven into every client engagement and every service we provide. 

It’s also why we’ve undertaken the comprehensive step of gaining HITRUST CSF certification for our private cloud datacenters. HITRUST is the gold standard for compliance to HIPAA as well as more than 40 other global standards. This certification is a difficult and ongoing undertaking, which is probably why so few providers have it. HITRUST incorporates over 400 security controls for which we have to show not only the processes we’ve defined to meet them but also evidence that we continue to comply with them. 

This isn’t a check-the-box exercise. It’s a lot of work, but it’s worthwhile because we know how important that assurance is for our clients. Importantly, everything we learn from the HITRUST CSF certification process in our data centers is disseminated throughout our organization, and informs everything we do. 

Q: How does digital transformation in healthcare address the challenges of interoperability?

MA: It is well-understood within the healthcare industry that systems have difficulty talking to one another. On one hand, that’s the consequence of intentional design—the effort of IT solution providers to keep organizations tied to their systems and to keep users working within their applications. On the other, it’s symptomatic of complexity—emerging needs, new technologies, and a vast array of novel or best-of-breed IT solution providers. 

We work to identify and develop or source IT solutions such as API libraries and developer kits that have an open stance toward integration and that can provide evidence of their ability to facilitate integrations with systems of record, including EHRs. We also wrap a service layer around IT solutions to ensure applications have been successfully integrated and can freely exchange data, so that workflows are optimized. On a more pragmatic level, we provide an Identity and Access Management platform that healthcare delivery organizations use to support their interoperability roadmap. 

Q: What is your guidance for healthcare organizations who are exploring digital transformation and still have questions?

MA: I encourage you to explore your options with a knowledgeable partner—someone who understands your business and your industry, as well as the technologies to accomplish your goals. Taking a holistic and long-term view will help you avoid unwanted surprises and potentially find savings by combining initiatives and services. Digital transformation in healthcare isn’t a simple task. But the results in terms of improved productivity and practice workflows; reduced frustration for patients, providers, and staff; and the peace of mind of knowing that data is secure and the business is protected should make it well worthwhile. 

What are your digital transformation questions? We’d love to talk to you and explore your options for improving your business and the experiences of your providers and patients.  Contact us! This is what we do.