Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare was already evolving and changing at a rapid pace. The pandemic disrupted the industry and forced healthcare providers to evolve at an even more aggressive pace. As part of this transformation, organizations pivoted to adopt more digital ways of working. Telehealth and virtual healthcare delivery models expanded access to care, filled the gaps in the physical delivery of care, and enabled a higher level of operational efficiency.
The industry continues to look to advance the quality of care by shifting to a greater degree of personalization in providing care. As part of this, organizations are looking to engage patients in adopting healthy habits by studying risk factors and consumer lifestyle factors that affect their health. Increased digitization in care delivery models adds another complexity: Patients are seeking more control over their care and their information, and are no longer simply going to the closest provider or healthcare facility in their community.
The healthcare industry continues to face massive financial, operational, and competitive challenges. Profit margins have eroded, revenues continue to decline in the face of the value-based care reimbursement model, new competitors are taking market share, and staffing shortages and burnout are driving up the cost of labor across the industry. To thrive and successfully offset the increasing financial and competitive challenges, organizations must meet changing patient needs and also optimize operational efficiency and accelerate growth—and information now plays a critical role in this transformation.
Health Information and Data-Driven Decision-Making
In typical healthcare organizations, physical information and data are often spread across multiple repositories, departments, and facilities. Digital data proliferates and can live in application servers, file systems, user shares, the cloud, and archived data tapes. As patients and regulating bodies push for increased transparency and ready access to information, organizations need to advance digital transformation to minimize the reliance on physical records, legacy systems, and manual workflows while balancing data access demands with increasing data protection and security requirements.
We need to take a step back and ask ourselves “Do we have the critical information, assets, and processes to be better prepared to respond to future emergencies and healthcare challenges?” Specifically, “Are we able to plan, pivot, and persevere?”
The Three Ps of Resilience
- Plan: To improve responses to future crises and challenges—and manage data better—we must plan to sharpen our processes, automate and digitize workflows wherever possible, and reduce the reliance on paper-based workflows.
- Pivot: Pivoting requires us to act quickly to support new treatment and service delivery demands while being nimble to make things happen quickly. Leveraging artificial intelligence and emerging technologies can help make information more usable.
- Persevere: To persevere, we must enable business insights and resilience to minimize future care delivery and revenue cycle disruptions. Securing data integrity and the defensible disposition of information across all formats helps us better prepare for and mitigate security threats.
We have reacted to the disruption of COVID-19 for the past couple of years, but there is an opportunity now to proactively plan automation of processes for operational efficiency and strategically map out health information (HI) functions and organizational goals. We must consider those areas that caused the most issues due to their physical, in-person, or paper-heavy workflows and pivot toward new ways to perform HI roles more efficiently. Furthermore, since we are most likely going to continue delivering some healthcare services virtually and employees may continue to work remotely in some capacity, we need to strengthen policies and procedures to safely share, access, and dispose of information from remote locations and home offices.
The resilience of any organization is centered around management of data and ensuring best practices for information management and security. Organizations need policies in place to govern the broad range of activities and tasks that will increasingly now take place in a hybrid work environment. More awareness on policies will help employees ensure compliance, such as holding regular “cleanup days” to guide individuals through the proper handling and disposal of protected health information. A great place to focus efforts is in digitizing information and workflows such as the mail delivered to a facility daily. Looking for ways to digitally route legal correspondence, claims and denials, referrals, release of information (ROI) requests, and other important information to its intended recipient, wherever they are physically, ensures immediate access, timeliness, and critical attention to deadlines.
An important aspect of pivoting throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has been to assess the skills of HI teams for greater alignment with IT to further enable the automation of workflows. This process provides the opportunity to assess skill sets, develop skills to fill the gaps, and transform. The HI workforce needs continuous information and education to help organizations effectively plan, pivot, and persevere through any challenges for resilience.
While the pandemic has highlighted technology gaps and the need for policy changes within healthcare, it has also uncovered opportunities for organizations to transform and become more resilient and stop perpetuating paper-based processes. In the face of any global healthcare crisis and to prevent disruptions, we must be prepared to leverage technology and automation while protecting the security of health information. The best way to accomplish this as HI professionals is to implement and enforce policies for business continuity, mitigate security risks, enhance skills to meet any challenges, and adopt proper communication and training to maintain compliance.
Health information (HI) professionals are uniquely positioned to enable data-driven decisions and the development of information management policies across the life cycle to help improve data quality and usability, balance data storage costs with access and security requirements, and reduce privacy and security risks associated with the over-retention or improper disposition of data and devices as they move throughout the organization.
Let’s come back stronger and better from the lessons learned and the opportunities taken to evolve, innovate, and build resilience.
Erin Head (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior healthcare consultant at Iron Mountain.