12 Health IT Best Practices

Working together to do more—and better—with less

By Kim Lamb, Executive Director, Oregon Health Network
(Click here to download a PDF of the 12 Best Practices)

America’s healthcare 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 healthcare-related industries. From core operational infrastructure systems to billing, scheduling, electronic medical records use, and administration, healthcare has transitioned from being a delivery system that is designed and managed within a silo to one that needs to communicate in real time to the rest of the policy-making continuum.

Healthcare executives, providers and administrators, along with local and federal politicians, are charged with addressing the pressing healthcare, economic and workforce 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 information technology to help them prioritize solutions. The new emphasis on patient-centered care requires collaboration and coordination at the federal, state and regional level, as well as full interoperability at the hardware, software, payor system, and patient care levels.

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 any role in the healthcare continuum. Furthermore, its adoption and use go beyond the traditional quest for pure competitive advantage; health IT is truly the only effective means to not only survive, but to thrive.

At the federal level, the government is working to remodel the country’s core healthcare delivery system. Through its Rural Health Care Pilot Program (RHCPP), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is building the next-generation healthcare delivery broadband infrastructure.

Oregon Health Network (OHN), a participant in the FCC’s RCHPP, is building a statewide broadband telehealth network – the first in Oregon and one of the first in the country. OHN supports the Triple Aim, the revolutionary philosophy adopted by a number of key organizations, including the Office of the National Coordinator and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. The goals of the Triple Aim are to enhance the patient experience of care (including quality, access and reliability), improve the health of the population, and reduce—or at least control—per capita costs.

12 BEST HEALTH IT PRACTICES FOR OUR COMMUNITY

As executive director of OHN, I’m very familiar with the challenges providers face. We developed this list of best practices to help healthcare 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 is not based upon the latest grant, mandate or technological advancement, but 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 is 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 healthcare 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 your strategy and goals. Form must follow function. Think about your goals as a healthcare 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, Department of Human Services, Oregon Association of Hospitals & 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 healthcare 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 to improve patient outcomes. Collaboration also addresses the pending healthcare provider shortage through expanded referral partnerships and supplements your health IT best practice areas.

Along with the FCC, the Office of the National Coordinator and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid are working to improve and incentivize the quality of healthcare. 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 CMS services. And these are just a few of the wide variety of exciting federally funded strategies and programs that are pushing the healthcare community to play a proactive role in finalizing the new healthcare delivery system blueprint.

Like most healthcare organizations, the federal government is in the early stages of facilitating true interagency coordination. This collaboration helps develop the programs and mandates that we work synergistically to support, and not hinder, the transition from old to new. We are all in the same boat, and we need each other to achieve success. Each of us is empowered to play a positive role in transitioning to a better future, one strategy, decision and 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 healthcare facility or provider, the pressure to do more and better with less is a common denominator. Under the developing new nationwide model, we’ll all be charged to think about how our facility, community and state will connect to the healthcare delivery system via information technology.

The key to success in this new age of healthcare delivery is not only the interoperability of what’s running on the network, but the broadband network or “highway” 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, high-quality connectivity is the crucial, but often overlooked, component for success. This is why OHN and the other national FCC RHCPP’s are working to expand existing or build new necessary broadband infrastructure across the country to support the health IT requirements of the next generation healthcare delivery system.

4. Implementation – Answering the question of “how?”

What is 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?

Success in this area requires more than funds; it also requires appropriate expectations based on measurable outcomes, research and measurement, and the right expertise to design a well thought out implementation plan. While many of these plans are comprehensive in nature, a larger set are executed based upon a specific use or application such as telemedicine/health, EMR, health information exchange, networking, video, etc.

Consider this a critical “translation” step of reconciling the approved strategy with the realities and limitations of the environment. These include, but are not limited to, access to resources (people, money, knowledge) and buy-in from leadership to set the implementation team up for success with their investment and awareness of all the 12 best practice areas.

5. Information – Quality improves outcomes

Currently, we’re all focused on electronic medical records, but in the context of the other 12 best practices, it’s easy to see that EMR plays an integral – but only supporting – role within the broader health IT framework. So, the topic isn’t only about EMR. It’s about information. And more specifically, it’s about getting the right information to the right person at the right time.

Why? At the risk of sounding redundant: to serve the Triple Aim. The demand for quality information will only continue to increase, so the key is to learn not only how to obtain and manage that information efficiently and effectively, but also to be able to share it easily and freely throughout the entire healthcare continuum.

6. Support – Making it work every day

Once a network is designed and implemented, it’s important to ensure that we have the resources needed to support the strategy and solution that have been implemented. There will be continuous modifications and subsequent investments that tie directly to the measurement and education of your solution. And, most of all, make sure you have the right people and resources to work well with your technical, business and clinical staff. Support should be considered throughout the life-cycle experience: from the network level all the way through to the provider and patient or end user.

7. Measurement – Access real-time information for improved decision making

Because the aim of gathering information is to reduce costs and improve outcomes, it’s critical to regularly evaluate the success of health IT programs and modify or adjust to meet your goals. The benefit of having access to “real-time” information supported by health IT is that it provides management with opportunities to adjust the course before you hit a wall. Consider it a proactive check and balance system. Therefore, it’s not only important to allot time and resources for evaluating your program’s success, but also to measure performance in a way that directly aligns with clearly stated goals and metrics.

There is a wealth of information and metrics to gather, so be strategic and specific when identifying what you’re tracking and why. Here are some questions to consider: How has your new EMR or telemedicine program served the Triple Aim? How can you work with other healthcare providers and organizations to identify what and how the statewide community measures success? What action will you take if you discover your program is not living up to your expectations?

Set metrics to know whether or not your efforts have been successful.

8. Education – Shortening the divide from “have” to “use”

Implementing new health IT solutions (from hardware through process refinement) is just the beginning. To experience the full benefits and improved outcomes of health IT, you need to encourage users at all stages and phases of the process, from inside your organization to outside your organization (other providers and patients themselves) to make full use of the solution.

Targeted, simplified user-focused communications are a core component of strong education programs. Simplifying complex information is a challenge, particularly when you are required to ask the user to change existing behaviors such as how to enter or retrieve information in a new system. Because people absorb information differently, consider providing the material in a variety of formats: hard copy literature, electronic, visual and in-person trainings.

9. Recruitment and retention – Increase and then meet demand

Strong health information technology is the No. 1 incentive to attract higher wage-earning primary care physicians and other health professionals to a community. Keeping healthcare in local communities increases patient confidence (thus keeping the patient – and payment – local), increases physician confidence (doctors across the state know that they have the support they need to answer some of medicine’s toughest questions, regardless of where they practice), helps retain and recruit doctors in historically underserved rural communities, and attracts high-wage jobs, helping stimulate local economies.

10. Credentialing and privileging – Care without borders

CMS and other national organizations are working at the policy level to address the challenges faced with licensing, credentialing and privileging for telemedicine. It’s important to keep an eye on progress, and to support the state and national organizations that are lobbying to make the much needed changes.

11. Reimbursement – Ensuring payment for the next generation of care

Similar to licensing, credentialing and privileging, making sure your physicians and clinicians are paid for the work they do via telemedicine (medicine across borders and facilities) is where the rubber meets the road. Thanks to several local nonprofits, state agencies and countless volunteers, Oregon is well on its way to overcoming reimbursement issues. However, work remains at the state and federal levels, and with insurance payers. This challenge can be overcome with innovation and collaboration to ensure that all members of the healthcare continuum are reimbursed appropriately for all levels and types of care.

12. Policy – Top-down collaboration and support of the continuum

Legislation and policy refinement at the state and federal levels is critical to helping providers invest in solutions that serve the Triple Aim. From broadband network deployment policy to licensing, credentialing, privileging and reimbursement, local and national organizations are working on your behalf to reduce the barriers to full use and adoption of a national system. Your voice and support is critical to their ability to do so.

RESOURCES TO SUPPORT BEST PRACTICES

All 12 best practices cannot—and should not—be performed by any one provider organization. They require our community working together: provider, policy and funding sources, and nonprofits. The key, as a healthcare provider business, is to consciously determine what you can feasibly address on your own, and where you need to look to others for assistance. Gone are the days of doing it alone; providers in each state have a wealth of experience and resources to share with the healthcare community. Information on lessons learned, cultivating new strategic partnerships and referral patterns, and investments poised to be leveraged at a state level to benefit the greater community good are all areas that benefit from a strong health IT network.


Kim Lamb is the executive director of the Oregon Health Network, a 501(c)(3) membership-based nonprofit organization building the first statewide broadband telehealth network in Oregon. Part of the Federal Communications Commission’s Rural Health Care Pilot Program, OHN’s mission is to provide all Oregonians, regardless of location, with access to the best possible healthcare.