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Investment in IT Infrastructure Needed to Power Healthcare Transformation

Posted on May 11, 2018 I Written By

Colin Hung is the co-founder of the #hcldr (healthcare leadership) tweetchat one of the most popular and active healthcare social media communities on Twitter. Colin speaks, tweets and blogs regularly about healthcare, technology, marketing and leadership. He is currently an independent marketing consultant working with leading healthIT companies. Colin is a member of #TheWalkingGallery. His Twitter handle is: @Colin_Hung.

Genomics, artificial intelligence, chatbots and a host of other technologies are accelerating the transformation of healthcare from a paper-based system to a digital one. In order to power this transformation, IT infrastructure (storage, computational power, security, etc) needs to move from an implementation afterthought to the forefront of strategic planning. Windstream Enterprise is one company that is working closely with healthcare providers to ensure their IT infrastructure is ready for the challenges ahead and helping to put the infrastructure conversation front-and-center.

Windstream is part of the wave of companies that have successful track-records in other industries that are now bringing their solutions to healthcare. This wave is being led by technology giants like Amazon, Apple and Google. The moves they make in healthcare get a lot of attention and rightfully so. Check out the excellent coverage by Christina Farr over at MSNBC for more information.

Although I am intrigued by what the big tech companies are doing, what I truly find fascinating (and frankly inspiring) is the work of the hundreds of companies not named Amazon, Apple and Google. Windstream is one of the companies I have been interested in ever since I saw them at HIMSS17 and wondered “What is an Internet access provider doing in healthcare?”

Windstream was formed back in 2006 when Alltel spun off it’s landline business and merged it with VALOR Communications Group. Back then they provided 3.4 million access lines (telephone and internet connections) in 16 states. Over the years they have continued to grow through acquisition, expanding into fiber transport networks and fixed wireless. Windstream Enterprises, a division of Windstream, has had tremendous success helping clients in the retail and banking industries build and manage their technology infrastructure.

I recently had the chance to sit down with Windstream’s President and CEO, Tony Thomas and one of their clients, the University of Kentucky Healthcare (UK), to talk about why healthcare needs to continue to invest in good IT infrastructure.

You can watch the full recording of our conversation here:

Thomas sees a lot of similarity between the digital transformation happening in healthcare and the ones that swept through the financial services and retail sectors.

“When you look at the success we’ve had in retail and banking, and then you look at where healthcare is heading, the commonality is the push to technology,” explained Thomas. “You can see that technology is changing the way that healthcare gets done. There is a focus on the patient experience and cost transformation.” This same focus on improving customer experiences and reducing costs is what helped spur the adoption of cloud and other advanced technologies at banks and retailers.

One driver of technology adoption in healthcare is the higher expectations patients have of healthcare provider. These higher expectations are fueled by the prevalence of (and convenience of) consumer technologies that have made our lives so much easier: online shopping, online banking, booking appointments through our smartphones, etc.

In 2016, Deloitte released a study that compared consumer use of technology for health vs other aspects of their lives. Not surprisingly their findings showed that healthcare lagged behind.

I see the delta between the use of technology as a consumer vs as a patient as a demand gap. The more healthcare lags behind, the more demand patients will put on healthcare organizations to adopt technologies that mirror what they experience as consumers.

To close that gap, organizations have accelerated the implementation of technologies like chatbots, omni-channel communications, artificial intelligence and data analytics. However, when you couple these new technologies with the use electronic health records and advanced lab systems, the result is explosive data growth.

“Over the last two years we have generated over 1.2 Petabytes of pathology data,” noted Cody Bumgardner PhD, Assistant Professor of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine at the University of Kentucky Healthcare (a Windstream client). “Pathology is really the collection of different points of data: images, genomic & laboratory data. Digital Pathology is taking all that data, making it both operationally effective and ready for computational analysis – transforming it into something useful and actionable for clinicians. Pathology and pathological reports arguably provide the most actionable data in the patient record and it is relatively low-cost relative to other data sources.”

“As the number of health and wellness devices increases,” continued Bumgardner. “It means we will have to collect and analyze more and more data. You will need some solid infrastructure to allow that data to flow and you will need good computational power as close to the point of data generation as possible.”

Getting funds and resources to keep IT infrastructure up to date is not easy. Jan Bates, Director of Systems Operations at the University of Kentucky Healthcare summed it up succinctly: “It’s hard to get buy-in from executives because it’s not something they have a keen interest in discussing. In fact, many find it boring. You HAVE TO relate infrastructure back to the business. You have to answer the questions: What benefits will the organization realize? and What will the organization be able to do when the infrastructure is well maintained?”

The answer according to Windstream’s CEO Tony Thomas is nothing short of transforming the way healthcare is delivered: “We are really at an exciting time in healthcare. There are tons of new technologies emerging [like AI]. We’re going to need solid investments in the underlying infrastructure to support those technologies which will revolutionize the way healthcare is delivered.”

It gives me hope that companies like Windstream are bringing their extensive data and infrastructure management expertise from the banking sector to healthcare. Although healthcare is a unique industry, that doesn’t mean we are restricted to adopting solutions developed by healthcare insiders. We can (and should) leverage the best from other industries and adapt them to the unique aspects of healthcare.

“Given the opportunities we see in healthcare, we are increasing our investment here.” stated Thomas. “We think we can be a provider of choice for many healthcare organizations. In the end it’s all about the application of technology to solve problems in healthcare.”

Well said.

Health Care Registries Turn Data into Knowledge

Posted on November 11, 2015 I Written By

Erin Head is the Director of Health Information Management (HIM) and Quality for an acute care hospital in Titusville, FL. She is a renowned speaker on a variety of healthcare and social media topics and currently serves as CCHIIM Commissioner for AHIMA. She is heavily involved in many HIM and HIT initiatives such as information governance, health data analytics, and ICD-10 advocacy. She is active on social media on Twitter @ErinHead_HIM and LinkedIn. Subscribe to Erin's latest HIM Scene posts here.

As the quest for more data in healthcare continues to grow, there are many ways to track specific diseases and outcomes. Data is used to monitor trends in population health and quality measures by creating databases that group similar data together. A registry is a true database that can be used to aggregate required data elements and additional data as needed. Most healthcare organizations are using registries as required by clinical research, state level Department of health, and the CDC. I see increased potential for using these registry concepts for internal hospital operations and population health as well.

Registries are used to collect data on patients with specific diseases, birth defects, the use of procedures and devices, traumatic injuries and risk demographics, tumors, transplants, and immunizations. This data is invaluable to hospitals who are constantly trying to understand their patient populations and needs for services. Health information exchanges (HIE) would be a great place to look at optimizing patient registry data to collect and share data for patients living within a region. While registries are de-identified so they will not contain any specific patient details, they tell the story of who lives in our communities or regions, what chronic illnesses they have, what demographics they identify with, and what types of treatment are being sought by patients.

Now that we are coding with ICD-10, we have additional detail elements that can be added to registry-type reports to better track the prevalence of diseases and surgical procedures performed in our hospitals. We can even gather more data for trauma registries to include the sometimes laughable details surrounding circumstances of injuries (insert wacky ICD-10 code jokes here).

But in all seriousness, I had an ah-ha moment the other day when reviewing registry requirements for PQRS and The Joint Commission. I was looking for ideas on quality dashboards and started to look to registries for ideas.

When we start to group, label, and track all of the different data that is collected in the hospital, we start to generate actionable information. Having this data in a database or registry gives us the power of knowledge when we can drill-down on age demographics, socio-economic factors, chronicity of diseases, at-risk populations, and the correlations between all of these factors and more. With population health being a major focus in today’s healthcare environments, having this information and knowledge is immensely important. It helps us not only meet regulatory requirements but also gives us the tools to ensure we meet our obligations to promoting the health of our community populations.

If you’d like to receive future HIM posts by Erin in your inbox, you can subscribe to future HIM Scene posts here.

Software Design – Dilbert Cartoon

Posted on August 31, 2015 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

I’m afraid I’ve seen this approach in far too many healthcare organizations. This is particularly true in health data analytics. Let me know if you can relate to this cyclical discussion. I do think it’s getting better though as more people have experience in the process. It’s just been a very long road.

Key Big Data Challenges Providers Must Face

Posted on July 17, 2015 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

Everybody likes to talk about the promise of big data, but managing it is another story. Taming big data will take new strategies and new IT skills, neither of which are a no-brainer, according to new research by the BPI Network.

While BPI Network has identified seven big data pain points, I’d argue that they boil down to just a few key issues:

* Data storage and management:  While providers may prefer to host their massive data stores in-house, this approach is beginning to wear out, at least as the only strategy in town. Over time, hospitals have begun moving to cloud-based solutions, at least in hybrid models offloading some of their data. As they cautiously explore outsourcing some of their data management and storage, meanwhile, they have to make sure that they have security locked down well enough to comply with HIPAA and repel hackers.

Staffing:  Health IT leaders may need to look for a new breed of IT hire, as the skills associated with running datacenters have shifted to the application level rather than data transmission and security levels. And this has changed hiring patterns in many IT shops. When BPI queried IT leaders, 41% said they’d be looking for application development pros, compared with 24% seeking security skills. Ultimately, health IT departments will need staffers with a different mindset than those who maintained datasets over the long term, as these days providers need IT teams that solve emerging problems.

Data and application availability: Health IT execs may finally be comfortable moving at least some of their data into the cloud, probably because they’ve come to believe that their cloud vendor offers good enough security to meet regulatory requirements. But that’s only a part of what they need to consider. Whether their data is based in the cloud or in a data center, health IT departments need to be sure they can offer high data availability, even if a datacenter is destroyed. What’s more, they also need to offer very high availability to EMRs and other clinical data-wrangling apps, something that gets even more complicated if the app is hosted in the cloud.

Now, the reality is that these problems aren’t big issues for every provider just yet. In fact, according to an analysis by KPMG, only 10% of providers are currently using big data to its fullest potential. The 271 healthcare professionals surveyed by KPMG said that there were several major barriers to leveraging big data in their organization, including having unstandardized data in silos (37%), lacking the right technology infrastructure (17%) and failing to have data and analytics experts on board (15%).  Perhaps due to these roadblocks, a full 21% of healthcare respondents had no data analytics initiatives in place yet, though they were at the planning stages.

Still, it’s good to look at the obstacles health IT departments will face when they do take on more advanced data management and analytics efforts. After all, while ensuring high data and app availability, stocking the IT department with the right skillsets and implementing a wise data management strategy aren’t trivial, they’re doable for CIOs that plan ahead. And it’s not as if health leaders have a choice. Going from maintaining an enterprise data warehouse to leveraging health data analytics may be challenging, but it’s critical to make it happen.