Meet the challenges of health care today
April 30, 2018
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Consolidation, new entrants and increasing momentum toward value-based care are among the forces driving rapid change in health care, yet many health care providers are still struggling to glean basic insights from the exponentially increasing volumes of data available to them. To explore these challenges and some ideas for addressing them, SmartBrief spoke with Alan Hughes, who is president of global health care and life sciences at NTT DATA Services, where he works with health care providers, health plans and life science industry clients daily to solve these issues.

There are some intriguing trends in health care right now, with tech companies like Apple, Google and Amazon showing real interest in the space, and some surprising proposed mergers between health insurers and retailers. What are the implications for health care providers?

Alan Hughes
Alan Hughes

The name of the game in health care today is “coordinated care,” and that requires having the most complete patient data possible and a network of partners who can help you get close to the patient. A common denominator among these trends is the desire to gain expanded access to data, combined with a sense that traditional health care providers haven’t been as effective at coordinating care and engaging patients in their own health outcomes as the consumer-based market now demands. 

Apple, Google and Amazon are masters at using data to engage consumers, and their products and services are embedded in the lifestyles of millions of people. They see an opportunity in health care to use their data expertise to help consumers better manage their health while increasing sales of health care-related products and services.

For payers, merging with retailers creates networks with pharmacies and retail clinics. This could help with two goals: lowering drug costs, and getting patients to take their medications and adhere to lifestyle advice. Pharmacists and nurses are the most-trusted health care providers, and often those are the people who staff pharmacies and retail clinics, not the traditional physician or hospital professionals.

Convergence between payers and providers has been ongoing, giving health plans greater control over members’ use of health care services. The key to success for providers in this environment will be to accelerate their efforts to collaborate with payers and to participate fully in efforts to improve outcomes and lower costs.

What health IT challenges are most pressing at health systems and hospitals right now? What about physician practices?

Data integration continues to be a challenge, and it affects every aspect of improving care and lowering costs. For example, population health initiatives, which are critical to both of those goals, depend on analytics. And the analytics depend on the breadth, depth and quality of data that is available.

Another big challenge is speeding up the pace of analytics and making it more affordable. Providers need access to insights now, not months from now, and they don’t have the deep pockets to hire data scientists. We’re seeing some new approaches to both data integration and to analytics that are real game changers. These new approaches shorten the time needed (from months to just a few days) and circumvent some of the problems associated with creating traditional data warehouses.

The new HHS secretary has made it clear value-based care continues to be a core priority for the department. What technology should health care providers be putting in place or optimizing to be ready for this continued momentum?

Cloud-based infrastructure, analytics, data integration, and tools for understanding the patient and improving the patient experience (like telehealth and customer relationship management systems) will be key to improving outcomes at lower cost, which is what value-based care is all about.

Analytics will be key. Provider organizations will need to identify physicians who are focused on value, identify patients at risk and close gaps in care, and manage their operations efficiently. To get the insights they need will take a sophisticated data and analytics approach.  If they are focused just on the basics (like maintaining a data center and keeping the EHR up and running), they may miss the boat on the technologies that will enhance the value of their organization’s care. That’s why cloud-based infrastructure and managed services will be critical, especially for smaller organizations. If they can free themselves from the daily grind, they will have the bandwidth to focus on the more critical jobs.

The patient experience is a key component of value-based care. How can health care providers leverage technology to improve patient experience?

Technology isn’t the central issue for improving patient experience. What is critical is understanding the patient and creating systems that are more patient-centric and convenient. Technology plays a role, but engagement and process are bigger factors, especially in health care. At NTT DATA, we have created the Customer Friction Factor process, which helps clients identify and reduce the friction in their customer interactions, and we’ve begun using it in health care. It starts with an assessment that pinpoints issues that create frustration and cause patients to disengage. It can help the client see their organization from the patient’s perspective and know what they need to fix.

Once an organization understands the patient point of view, they can use technology effectively to engage patients and make care more convenient and more patient-centric.  Mobile apps, patient portals, CRM systems, telehealth and other technology can be useful, but only if you start with processes and attitudes that are designed for the patient. Without that understanding, technology won’t help.

Technology is enabling new care delivery models like telemedicine, use of remote monitoring tools to keep patients in their homes and other innovations. How should health care providers integrate these and other technologies that could transform how they treat patients?

New care delivery models will require an organization to transform attitudes and processes to be effective. You can’t just plug in a new technology without a thorough look at how it will interact with the existing system. Remote care, using monitoring and telehealth, can be incredibly helpful if the organization redesigns processes to integrate the technology into the existing workflows and connect the dots between physicians, patients and other providers. It requires some system integration to ensure the data is accessible to the right people and that it is actionable. Simply adding more data isn’t useful. You need a way to filter and analyze that data and present caregivers with insights they can use to guide care. And you need to be sure patients are kept in the loop and get the feedback they need to manage their own care at home.

Alan Hughes is president of the global health care and life sciences business unit at NTT DATA Services. In this role, he is responsible for leading the growth, profitability and transformation of the global health care business, which focuses on provider, physician, health plan and life sciences clients.