For a very long time, health systems and hospitals were at the forefront of interoperability efforts. We can appreciate the extensive endeavors undertaken by them to connect disparate providers and locations to serve patients, but it’s no big secret that outside of the “network” of a given system, the communication goes quiet, and information is limited (if not altogether lost). On the other hand, many independent providers in the post-acute space have done a good job of connecting to one another, but there’s a sense of being outside the tall walls (in the form of governance, exchange standards, etc.) of larger systems’ interoperability solutions. Both groups have some great ideas and made advances to appreciate, but the only way healthcare is going to shift toward the kind of delivery that patients need in an increasingly complex and home-based landscape is to meet in the middle for true healthcare collaboration via effective communication tools.
Health Systems Lead the Charge on Streamlined Communication Channels
One of the areas we see health systems leading the way in terms of connectivity that serves providers (and is therefore adopted and influences outcomes) is the insistence on user friendliness. Specifically, health systems work hard to ensure that communication channels are streamlined to very few (if not a single) inbox. Whenever possible, the requirement is to deliver information from other sources – be it integrated EHRs, HIEs, etc. – into the native workflow in an intuitive spot where the provider is already reviewing patient information. The idea of extra clicks and checking multiple portals isn’t ideal in the current pace of healthcare delivery, and most providers frankly won’t do it (…at least not securely, anyway).
Post-acute providers, on the other hand, are often at the mercy of their referring partners and whatever systems they’re required to use to manage the patients sent their way. This creates a lot of administrative overhead, redundant processes, and potential for communication to leak outside of secure means to get the job done in emergent circumstances. The reality for home health providers, for example, operating on the road and gathering timely, relevant information on their patient population is a breakdown in communication that sacrifices compliance for speed of collaboration. What’s lost is the opportunity to intervene quickly and potentially reduce admission, or the oversight of their rich medical and holistic well-being data by other providers on the care team. We shouldn’t force providers into such a conundrum when it comes to communicating about their patients.
Post-Acute Providers Adapt Nimbly to Solutions to Leverage Exponential Capabilities
What post-acute and independent providers lack in funding, they make up for in their abilities to adapt to circumstances. The pandemic brought to light the need (and therefore reimbursability) for many solutions that home health providers count on to do their jobs, such as telehealth and monitoring/reporting of social determinants of health. Given the size and red tape involved with IT changes amongst health systems, moving quickly enough to adapt to Social Distancing and virtual care was a serious problem. (Remember the need to “flatten the curve”?) Post-acute providers are typically nimbler when it comes to solutions available to improve communication, in part because their workflows aren’t as ironclad and the desire for better connectivity is so strong. We’ve seen where the appetite for connecting to networks to exponentially increase the ability to share and exchange patient data is strong, and the ability to respond to resources like Carequality or imminent QHINs under TEFCA is more aligned with the speed at which healthcare organizations must move to keep up the pace with changes in medicine.
Collaboration Is Better When We’re Together
Collaboration at its essence requires two or more willing parties. If we look at health systems as a whole, they tend to communicate well internally. But meaningfully connecting those providers and all their rich data to the outside community not only improves outcomes via a more connected care team, but it bolsters the value that post-acute services play in getting patients back on their feet and walking in wellness.