Technology’s Role in Driving Improved Outcomes, Reducing Costs

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For RPM (remote patient monitoring), technology is the vehicle through which we connect the care continuum to the home.

[Editor’s Note: This article was contributed by Julie Cherry, RN, MSN. Cherry is the chief clinical officer of Care Innovations, responsible for all clinical aspects, solutions, and service developments.]

Emerging payment models and a rapidly evolving industry place increased pressure on hospitals and health systems to drive improved health outcomes while reducing costs. Many are turning to health technology innovations that will enable them to be more successful in a value-based world. In fact, the 2016 Cost Accounting Survey indicated that one of the top needs in the transition to value-based care model is tools to track and evaluate the quality of care.

Julie Cherry, RN, MSN

Technology is a Powerful Tool for Succeeding in Value-Based Environment
To successfully navigate through the value-based care era, hospitals and health systems must consider new approaches to effectively help patients manage their care and avoid costly admissions. This leaves clinicians with greater responsibility to ensure patients are managing their health outside the walls of the clinical setting – a difficult task accounting for greater populations of people. Technology can serve as a powerful resource to help clinicians deliver high-quality care and empower patients to take a more active role in their health.

Using Data to Understand and Manage Populations
The promise of Health Information Technology (HIT) lies in the use of data to better connect patients and their clinicians. Technology serves as the foundation for hospitals and health systems to gather data to help manage populations for whom they are going at risk, ensuring lower costs and better outcomes overall.

Remote patient management (RPM) is one health technology that is already helping clinicians manage populations more effectively. Monitoring a population remotely through vital sign readings or activities of daily living allows the clinician to manage by exception, to identify which patients fall outside of predetermined acceptable thresholds and intervene only with those patients.

In addition to monitoring vital signs and symptoms, RPM provides a much-needed touchpoint between large groups of patients and clinicians. A clinician may be able to catch health issues requiring interventions in their patients by contacting each one of them every day, but that would restrict that clinician’s reach to a small group. Logistically, it is easier to track and monitor the health of a large population of people remotely with technology.

For example, using data gathered through RPM technology, a clinician may identify diminished lung capacity in a patient with COPD and provide the appropriate intervention rather than have to wait until that patient visits the provider office next – or when his or her condition worsens. This real-time intervention enables that clinician to focus on the most acute patients providing the right care at the right time. Implementing a successful RPM program means that not all patients receive interventions – only the ones that need them.

Three Areas of Focus to Maximize Technology in Value-Based Care
To maximize success in a value-based care environment, here are three things you need to consider:

1. Understand your business objectives.
Hospitals and health systems are most successful in implementing technology programs if they have clearly defined goals and business plans. These may include lower costs, higher quality, increased patient engagement or satisfaction, better scalability, or a combination of the above. One of the most common reasons health technology programs fail is because they don’t have a plan to reach clear goals. Technology implementation should enable a hospital or health system to accomplish those goals in a more efficient and effective manner.

For example, if you’re trying to increase patient satisfaction and build loyalty to your organization, you may look for technology that is user-friendly and requires little setup for the consumer. However, if trying to lower readmissions, you may consider a program that is more clinically-focused and developed to support behavior change. Seeking partners with deep familiarity into the clinical aspects of their solutions helps to ensure success in reducing readmissions because knowing how to engage patients in behavior change is often more important than the technical aspects of a solution.

2. Use data to adjust your program
Outcomes, nearly as important as defining business goals, are measured through the gathering and tracking of data. It’s not enough to know how success is defined. Hospitals and health systems must be able to look at outcomes and adjust aspects of the program that aren’t aligned with reaching key goals. An organization needs to be ready to look at the data and use it to adjust clinical programs accordingly to improve outcomes.

Through this data gathering, an organization should identify and correct problems early on rather than having to react to them after they’ve gotten out of hand. For example, if a patient with congestive heart failure reports weight gain or shortness of breath in their home, the clinician can help determine the cause and course of treatment without ever having to meet with the patient. This intervention can prevent further complications or costly readmissions.

3. Customize programs to fit hospital and patient needs
Just as all patients are different and require a customized care plan for the best success, each hospital and health system is different, and each technology program for an individual disease state is different. A program managing patients with high-risk pregnancies will look very different than a program for COPD or diabetes. Thus, hospitals and health systems should seek a solution that is flexible and can be adapted as the program progresses and adjusts for unforeseen complications.

Similarly, an organization should be able to adjust the program itself to help accomplish your business goals – a program looking to reduce hospitalizations for congestive heart failure could rely on changes in blood pressure or heart rate, while another program looking to facilitate post-acute care transitions might focus more on self-report data.

Managers shouldn’t expect a one-size-fits-all, off-the-shelf solution to solve all their clinical problems. It’s not enough to purchase and implement technology in a plug-and-play scenario. Adopting a new technology should involve a complete shift in the care paradigm to allow for adequate customization.

In the future, technology will continue to aid hospitals and health systems to accomplish their goals. For RPM, technology is the vehicle through which we connect the care continuum to the home and receive important data, data that provides valuable insights into what’s going on with specific patient populations. When used correctly, technology has the potential to dramatically streamline workflows and reach greater populations. It’s not just about the technology that’s implemented; rather, technology is merely the tool that can help facilitate the delivery of unmatched care, improvement of outcomes and reduction of costs.

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