AUSTIN, Texas—In an industry that's been overrun by gadgets and widgets that promise to help with the rapidly changing landscape, digital tools will not be enough to transform healthcare, warn system leaders.
Transformation Summit 2018: Healthcare leaders say it's time for innovative change
"This is not about making a better caterpillar," said Eugene Woods, CEO of Atrium Health, explaining the ever-growing need for the healthcare industry to metamorphose to bring more value to patients. While delivering the opening keynote address at the 2018 Healthcare Transformation Summit, Woods called on his colleagues to turn to digital technology to achieve that kind of metamorphosis.
But while technological tools are critical, so are agility and empathy, according to health system leaders gathered at the summit, sponsored by Modern Healthcare and the Austin Healthcare Council.
Take artificial intelligence, for example. Kerrie Holley, a technical fellow at Optum Technology, said fearing AI is like fearing physics. Machine learning algorithms may change what doctors do, but it won't replace them, he said. "Doctors will stop doing some activities and move to others, and I think a lot of those will be patient care," he said.
Even then, providers can't abandon their own thinking, said Dr. Rick Peters, chief technology innovation officer at the Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin. "We need to understand that these are algorithms," he said. "We're trying to teach humility. We need to understand that we can't depend on these machines to say definitely what something is."
Nor can healthcare leaders and providers treat technology as a gimmick, said keynote closing speaker Dr. Stephen Klasko, president and CEO of Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Health. "We don't talk about 'telebanking,' " he said, paraphrasing what former Apple CEO John Sculley said about the rise of online banking. Likewise, healthcare leaders should stop talking about "telehealth" and instead talk about meeting patients' needs "in a flexible way, the way they consume every other consumer good."
It's increasingly crucial to meet those needs because of the "once-in-a-multigenerational change" the industry is undergoing, Klasko said, from "the physician and the administrator being the boss to the patient being the boss."
Technology can sometimes get in the way of reaching those patients, though, said Craig Cordola, president and CEO of Ascension Texas. "The big push for EMRs hasn't really demonstrated cost savings, and it hasn't really encouraged new care at the bedside," he said. "Somewhere along the way, we need to get back to hands on patients instead of heads on computers."
Sometimes, it's a mix of the technological and the human that makes the biggest difference. To that end, Atrium Health leaders created the Community Resource Hub, an online tool to connect patients with community organizations. And Atrium providers can refer patients to the organizations, which then get email alerts.
These techniques flag options that patients might not otherwise know about, said Ruth Krystopolski, senior vice president for population health at Atrium Health. Sometimes, she said, patients have to choose between getting prescriptions filled or buying dinner for their families.
"There are dollars available—they're just not aware of it," she said. "They just don't know how to work through the application process."
The Community Resource Hub is one tool to help solve that problem.
Reimbursement can still be a hurdle, though. "In the commercial population, there's still a lot of hesitancy to engage," she said. "But the people with the highest social risk are the people we're seeing with the most ROI."
To realize this, there must be leadership buy-in, Krystopolski said. "This is a leadership commitment from the very top about how we are responsible for the health of our communities, not just for delivering healthcare."
While healthcare leaders are shifting to focus more on population health, their populations themselves are shifting their own expectations of the industry. "Mobile technology and social media are colliding to radically change consumer expectations and customer service as we know it," Woods said. Now is the time for real transformation to serve that new paradigm, he said. "Every year, we sort of say, 'Next year is going to be really different,' " he said. "We'll look back on the time to say it's a pivotal moment."
To remind himself of how crucial it is to pursue new strategies, Woods keeps a helpful stamp on his desk: a red circle with a red line crossing out the phrase "We have always done it this way."
An edited version of this story can also be found in Modern Healthcare's June 18 print edition.
Send us a letter
Have an opinion about this story? Click here to submit a Letter to the Editor, and we may publish it in print.