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Better, safer and more efficient care

Technology in healthcare is designed to deliver better, safer and more efficient care. Too often though, the effects of technology have been much different—resulting in delays, rework and distraction. A nurse will push her cart with testing equipment into a patient’s room to do an exam, but the cart doesn’t function in that room so the nurse has to contact a network expert from IT over and over.

Heather Haugen, Ph.D., healthcare practice leader at NTT, estimates that if technology and workflows operated the way they were supposed to, nurses would save on average four minutes every time they walked into a patient’s room.

‘That would give a nurse back 50 to 60 minutes a day,’ she says. ‘And there is nothing that resonates more with a nurse or physician than getting back time that allows them to provide better patient care.’

This is where informatics comes in. The discipline—which leverages technology and information to foster better collaboration between different healthcare providers—is the bridge that connects IT and clinicians to promote quality, safety and efficiency.

The challenges

Higher technology adoption

Informatics is a unit that can include a wide range of personnel, from physicians and nurses to data scientists and analysts. According to Haugen, research indicates healthcare organizations with an informatics group have a 40% higher adoption of clinical applications.

‘With an informatics group, people have the training to use the applications,’ she says. ‘They know how the application fits into their workflow. And they have someone to ask if they have questions.’

More and more, informatics has become the innovator in a health system in desperate need of improvement, driving smart healthcare transformation by upgrading processes and workflows, providing better user experiences and finding smarter ways to leverage clinical expertise.

‘With an informatics group, people have the training to use the applications. They know how the application fits into their workflow. And they have someone to ask if they have questions.’

Heather Haugen
Ph.D., Healthcare Practice Leader, NTT

Informatics ‘plugged in’ at Fairview

Consider Fairview Health Services, a nonprofit, integrated health system based in Minneapolis. The organization has one of the largest informatics departments in the United States. An informaticist is plugged into cardiology, oncology and other medical units. ‘If a department wants to add video software to their workflow, the informaticist can be the bridge to IT because they understand how the department functions,’ says Dr. Susan Pleasants, a physician and chief medical informatics officer at Fairview.

When COVID-19 struck, this bridge was instrumental in allowing Fairview to quickly set up mass testing sites that met compliance and regulatory requirements. The informaticists have also been key in developing systems that allow patients to access care either online or through phone calls. Connecting systems and departments in a way to provide an efficient patient journey isn’t always easy.

‘Each clinical area will say, “I need this,”’ Pleasants explains. ‘The informaticist is the one who can get agreement across all these service lines that think they have different needs. But they really have the same need—providing the highest level of care. The informatics department can show how all the service lines can achieve that by working together, because they can’t do it alone.’

Jeffrey Blade, vice president of applications for Fairview, meets regularly with the informatics team. ‘We set priorities and flesh out ideas,’ he says. ‘It ensures we speak with one voice to our operational partners, which has allowed us to deliver digital and automation capabilities to the organization, even through COVID-19 and a reduction in headcount on our teams.’

Blade adds that working with NTT has enabled Fairview to take advantage of emerging connected healthcare technology. ‘We brainstorm how we can do better and more with the same amount of people—or less—through automation and other digital solutions,’ he says.

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Success factors


Rapid set-up of fully compliant mass COVID-19 testing sites

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Connecting systems and departments to provide an efficient patient journey

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Doing more with less through automation and digital solutions

‘It ensures we speak with one voice to our operational partners, which has allowed us to deliver digital and automation capabilities to the organization, even through COVID-19 and a reduction in headcount ...’

Jeffrey Blade
Vice President of Applications, Fairview Health Services

Encouraging new thinking

Historically, clinicians, pharmacists and other healthcare providers have been consumers of technology, but they haven’t been involved in making decisions around the technology. As patient records became digitized and electronic health records (EHRs) were introduced, it was evident that IT and clinicians needed to find new ways to collaborate.

Informatics has largely focused on patient safety and quality initiatives, such as ensuring stroke patients get the necessary level of care as soon as they enter a hospital.

Healthcare is looking at new ways to embrace hybrid work like all other industries. ‘With an already reduced and overworked staff, hospitals need to enable their physicians, radiologists and clinicians by providing access to EHRs, images or video analytics in a secure, compliant and optimized way, either onsite or when at home. This is needed to help improve quality of patient care,’ says Vivek Vijay of NTT, who specializes in enterprise mobility, digital technology innovation and adoption across industries. ‘By focusing on the well-being of the clinician, we can ensure a healthier community.’

Workflow alignment and contextual data

Vijay says a key to digital transformation in healthcare is having technology conform to clinician workflow, rather than having the workflow conform to technology. In addition, clinicians need access to contextual data in real time. This is an effective way for clinical teams to become comfortable with consolidating various clinical communication devices, including phones, PCs, pagers and more.

He says industries like manufacturing can provide examples of how clinicians can make use of solutions like augmented reality and voice-activated and hands-free wearable solutions that simplify clinician workflow and help them focus on the patient. In addition, informatics and IT teams need to have the right tools that provide visibility into adoption, utilization and operational challenges experienced by the clinical staff in a proactive way.

Wireless and IoT

A few healthcare clients are looking at emerging wireless technologies and IoT solutions to provide secure, ‘wire-like’ and consistent connectivity across the hospital. One of the main use cases is to enable seamless voice and video collaboration. The guaranteed performance of technology will ensure improved patient experience and quality of care.

Informatics is also becoming essential as healthcare is no longer contained within the walls of a medical center or doctor’s office. ‘In the future, digital transformation in healthcare will be less and less about providing care in the acute setting,’ Haugen says. ‘The informatics and clinical people will need to think of ways to reach the community that isn’t coming in for care now.’

Encouraging new thinking is at the heart of informatics. One large pulmonary hospital in the Midwest takes the attitude that every patient is a customer. Reframing the institutional mindset has allowed the hospital to set up kiosks for check-in and automate insurance verification—something that hospitals have been historically reluctant to do.

Transforming healthcare

‘A lot of people don’t realize IT is becoming transformative in healthcare because healthcare is thinking about IT differently,’ Haugen says.

The ramifications touch every aspect of care. With proper technology, ER doctors could be relieved of time-consuming tasks like taking a patient’s temperature—as such duties could be performed remotely by student interns.

Vijay also mentions that healthcare operations and IT need an agile, AI-enabled, self-healing digital fabric that can dynamically scale up or down depending on need. ‘The ongoing co-innovation and lessons learned between clinical teams, IT and the business are going to help us be ready for whatever comes next,’ he says.

By building that bridge, healthcare could finally reap the many benefits technology has long promised patients and society as a whole.