Embracing technology to deliver better patient care

by PV SubbaRao, VP, Global Healthcare and Life Sciences, Rackspace Technology

healthcare professional using tablet device

The COVID-19 epidemic first made its appearance in late 2019. In that short timeframe, the world has endured massive change. And when we examine the healthcare industry through a global lens, we see that the healthcare ecosystem in every country is struggling to establish policies, processes and expectations around the new normal while striving to deliver better care to patients.

But with new challenges come new opportunities. At Rackspace, we’re seeing an exceptional pace at which our clients are driving transformation. In the areas of Health IT (HIT) specifically, we’re seeing disruption to traditional protocols in each of the four constituents within this ecosystem: Payers and providers (who are trying to emulate each other as “Payviders”), Med Devices and Pharma operating under the Life Sciences umbrella. Each of these plays a critical role during this COVID-19 pandemic outbreak. And each is looking to innovate for greater agility and efficiency.

Pre-COVID-19, organizations were trying to do more with less, while dealing with ever-changing reimbursement conditions. The constraints of COVID-19 only served to amplify this drive as the overall industry also faced extreme uncertainty. And it’s not just healthcare. This pandemic outbreak has caught many industries off guard, with a shockwave of ripple effects tearing through the supply chains of all businesses.

These are challenging times, and technology is at the forefront of driving innovation for all of our clients. In the short-term, responsiveness and speed are everything. We will see new devices, new test kits and new regulations that drive an enormous amount of data. The innovation in healthcare presents a unique advantage for SaaS and technology players to drive incremental innovation and value to our communities. Firms that are well-positioned to drive interoperable platforms that can match up to changing consumer-centric care expectations will take center stage.

Normalcy in the care-delivery ecosystem is hard to visualize until effective testing and treatment protocols are developed. Technology innovation in the form of devices, test-kits and sensors will all be deployed and integrated into the care delivery setting at a rapid scale. With a large amount of IoT and device proliferation, we will see the marketplace flourish with integrated omnichannel capabilities.

For example, Apple and Google are jointly developing contact-tracing technology that tells smartphone users if they’ve been near someone who’s tested positive for COVID-19. It’s likely that we will start to see contact-tracing technologies provide similar notifications in other scenarios, such as:

  • Providing direct care to COVID-19 patients without proper personal protective equipment
  • Staying in the same close environment with a COVID-19 patient (workplace, classroom, household or gatherings)
  • Traveling together in close proximity in any kind of a vehicle

To succeed, contact-tracing programs require that people trust the entity to whom they are reporting. Trust is a big factor to help individuals and communities who are exposed to this pandemic. Think about digital tools unleashing the social potential with trustworthy, secure, centralized data storage that shares information at the local, state and federal levels.

In addition to contact tracing, firms are also looking to use artificial intelligence (AI) for scientific discovery. The Allen Institute for AI has brought leading research groups to distribute open research datasheets, a free resource that includes more than 52,000 articles that researchers can access to make use of the latest advancements in Natural Language Processing and generate new insights.

Until we have a vaccine, human-centered tech can utilize the power of data to help us navigate towards creating upstream and downstream expectations for member and patient engagement protocols and interoperability arrangements for effective outcomes.

The opportunity at hand is an API marketplace ecosystem that is prepared to handle this voluminous data from various data sources, including social data, research articles and clinical and claims systems, to name a few. While there are many technology platforms that can support marketplace enablement, commercial viability between API consumers and API producers will be key.

Security, compliance and privacy

All of this change through new devices and sensors brings challenges related to security, compliance and privacy needs. The need for a new approach for network security is required now that there are more remote users, SaaS applications and movement of data from the data center to cloud services.

Emerging cybersecurity concepts such as Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) and Zero Trust Architectures are gaining popularity. The amount of granular perimeter enforcement and micro-segmentation by the user, machine or device through application access is paramount for maturity development. Building a resilient security framework will be at the epicenter of future discussions for months and years to come across healthcare segments.

Telehealth and remote patient monitoring

Imagine tether-less sensors connected to monitors outside the patient’s room or in temporary hospital settings that can:           

  • Help with infection control and prevention
  • Monitor patients at home
  • Engage at-risk patients through virtual visits

Telehealth is here to stay for a long time, and we will observe the remote patient monitoring (RPM) alternatives expansion.

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and commercial payers are broadening access to telehealth and RPM services. These services are not limited to COVID-19 and waive many of the payment requirements. Some of the key changes include:

  • No need to be a COVID-19 patient to use telehealth (type of service)
  • Allowed in all settings, including the patient’s home (location)
  • No requirement for an established relationship with the physician providing the service (relationships)
  • Physicians licensed in one state may provide services in another state as long as they comply with the state laws (licensing)
  • The same-rate of reimbursement as if the service was provided in-person (reimbursements)

The technology systems in use already are designed to drive Robotic Process Automation (RPA) efficiencies through modular architectures that don’t require code changes across the entire revenue cycle ecosystem.

New forms of value

The ecosystem players are attempting to leverage an enormous amount of data and drive actionable insights. A few areas of focus include:

  • Interoperability/Application Programming Interface (API) marketplace: Seamless interoperability to drive effective member and patient engagement outcomes is the focus for all constituents of the ecosystem. While most interoperability challenges are addressed through APIs, we see gaps in the lack of industry data standards and technologies resulting in service customization. This forces us to create multiple APIs, which requires constant management as systems are upgraded and replaced. While there are implementation standards leveraging frameworks like Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR), this is not enforced or widely adopted – which forces CIOs to create one-off solutions based on broad variations in API implementations. Finally, backward compatibility is critical, pushing CIOs to pay attention to whether resources leveraged today will still work when the next version is released.  
  • Automation/Robotic Process Automation (RPA): Bots can help increase engagement, compliance and operational efficiency to achieve strong ROI for all constituents across the ecosystem. But an ecosystem that embraces a hybrid workforce (humans and bots) at scale is the best approach.
  • AI and machine learning: AI and machine learning open up possibilities of automated care management that can help high-risk and rising-risk populations and patients. Longitudinal 360-degree views of patient data can help with diagnosis correlation and risk scoring through machine learning tools, while leveraging large volumes of data for running analytical models where physicians and clinicians make use of these models to correlate and predict diagnosis. This can help physicians cover more patients.
  • Next-generation devices: Think about having medical-grade devices that can monitor temperature, oxygen saturation, pulse rate, noninvasive blood pressure, Perfusion index, Pleth variability index, etc. from the convenience of being at home and in a cost-effective manner that can not only help critically ill with COVID-19 but also come handy during post-acute care setting. These innovations can help minimize hospital re-admission rates through improved medication adherence and by fueling improved care management efforts.
  • Cloud: For many C-level officers, this situation is a wake-up call. What I mean by that is almost all businesses had a cloud-first strategy, but the execution often found itself in the crosshairs hierarchy and culture over the years. The current situation is forcing C-level officers to be agile while handling legacy technical debt as they see the cloud shift in every part of the organization.

In the new world, we will see profound implications of what it means to be competitive where innovation and speed drive overall changes in the ecosystem while we continue to stay focused with proactive community engagement to avoid progressing complications during this pandemic. Businesses will seriously consider what they’ve achieved through speed and innovation, and that is going to be a critical change in how they operate going forward.

Want to hear more?

We conducted a one-hour healthcare technology roundtable on May 28, with technology leaders from Rackspace, Pure Storage and Armor. The panel discussed how healthcare organizations can ensure business continuity by leveraging multicloud solutions for greater data storage and retrieval and cloud scalability. To learn more, you can watch the “Ask the Experts: Healthcare” recording on-demand. 

Embrace technology to deliver better patient care