June 23, 2011 By Kim Lamb
Editor’s Note: Kim Lamb is the executive director of the Oregon Health Network, a membership-based nonprofit organization building the first statewide broadband telehealth network in Oregon. Part of the FCC’s Rural Health Care Pilot Program, the network’s mission is to provide all Oregonians, regardless of location, with access to the best possible health care.
America’s health-care landscape is more complex and multidimensional than ever. Over the past five years, acronyms, federal mandates and funding streams have bombarded decision-makers in a number of health care-related industries. From core operational infrastructure systems to billing, scheduling, electronic medical records and administration, health care has transitioned from being a delivery system that's designed and managed within a silo to one that needs to communicate in real time to the rest of the policymaking continuum.
Health-care executives, providers and administrators, along with local and federal politicians, are tasked with addressing the pressing health-care, economic and work force needs of their constituents. But these issues are increasingly difficult to deal with, particularly because decision-makers aren’t given the broader context of health IT to help them prioritize solutions. The new emphasis on patient-centered care requires collaboration and coordination at the federal, state and regional levels — and full interoperability of hardware, software, payer systems and patient care.
Formerly reserved for those with money and resources to invest, health IT is no longer optional. It’s a core requirement for all providers and agencies that play a role in the health-care continuum. Furthermore, health IT’s adoption and use go beyond the traditional quest for pure competitive advantage; health IT is truly the only effective means to survive and thrive.
At the federal level, the government is working to remodel the country’s core health-care delivery system. Through the Rural Health Care Pilot Program (RHCPP), the FCC is building the next-generation broadband infrastructure for health-care delivery.
Oregon Health Network (OHN), a participant in the RHCPP, is building a statewide broadband telehealth network — the first in Oregon and one of the first in the country. OHN supports the “Triple Aim,” a revolutionary philosophy adopted by several key organizations, including the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The goals of the Triple Aim are to improve the population's health, enhance the patient's experience of care (including quality, access and reliability) and reduce — or at least control — per capita costs.
The 12 Best IT Practices for the Health-Care Community
As executive director of OHN, I’m very familiar with the challenges providers face. We developed the following list of best practices to help health-care executives, providers and administrators recognize the critical elements required to implement and support a viable health IT infrastructure at the facility, state and national levels. This framework isn’t based on the latest developments in grants, mandates or technology. It’s grounded upon the proven business and technological expertise and resources required to develop a viable health IT program. These 12 health IT best practices are recommended guidelines to help you and your team understand what’s required to achieve success, what you can influence (and what you cannot), and the partners and support systems needed for success.
1. Strategy and vision: Form follows function
Until recently, the national health-care community hasn’t had a commonly shared health IT solution goal. Decisions were made at the ground level, within the system walls created by providers, executives and administrators. But the recent adoption of the Triple Aim changes all that. We now have a national framework to build from and within.
The first step to any well-laid health IT plan is to take the time and effort to clarify strategy and goals. Form must follow function. Think about your goals as a health-care provider and/or facility: How do you (or will you) measure success as a result of your health IT strategy and plan? And even more importantly, how does your plan align with that of surrounding communities, and with state and national plans?
In Oregon, the Health Information Technology Oversight Council, the Department of Human Services, Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, the Oregon Health Network and many individual hospitals throughout the state look to the Triple Aim to guide strategy, planning, coordination and investment efforts.
Plan and build with the end in mind: an integrated national health-care delivery system.
2. Collaboration: Don’t reinvent the wheel
Investing in, and integrating into, the national provider community is the most effective and affordable means to reduce costs and improve patient outcomes. Collaboration also addresses the pending health-care provider shortage through expanded referral partnerships and supplements health IT best practice areas.
Along with the FCC, the Office of the National Health IT Coordinator and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid are working to improve health care and create incentives for stakeholders to encourage their participation. These improvement efforts include mandating the meaningful use of electronic medical records, funding Regional Extension Centers to assist physician practices in achieving meaningful use, and adding telemedicine services to the approved list of Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. And these are just a few of many federally funded strategies and programs under way.
Like most health-care organizations, the federal government is in the early stages of facilitating true interagency coordination. Collaboration is helping develop the programs and mandates that will facilitate the transition from old to new. We are all in the same boat, and we need one another to achieve success. Each of us is empowered to play a positive role in transitioning to a better future — one strategy, one decision and one sound investment at a time.
3. Connectivity: Building the infrastructure needed for success
Regardless of whether we represent a public agency, for-profit or nonprofit health-care facility or provider, the pressure to do more and better with less is a common denominator. Under the developing new nationwide model, we all must think about how our facility, community and state will connect to the health-care delivery system via IT.
The key to success in this new age of health-care delivery is not only the interoperability of what’s running on the network, but the broadband network that health IT applications and hardware needs to run on. And once the network is built, it must be adequately supported and used.
Reliable, high-speed and high-quality connectivity is the crucial but often overlooked component for success. This is why Oregon Health Network and the other RHCPPs across the nation are working to expand existing broadband infrastructure or building entirely new networks that will support the health IT requirements of the next-gen health-care delivery system.
4. Implementation: Answering the question of ‘how’
What’s your actual plan to serve your greater health IT strategy? What resources, tools (broadband, hardware, software, etc.) and supporting processes will be required to do so? And how will it be implemented to achieve success?
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