Six Ways the Healthcare Industry Can Improve Care Coordination

With the annual HIMSS Global Healthcare Conference only a few weeks away, HIMSS and its Trust Partners, Accenture, The Chartis Group, and ZS, released a 2021 State of Healthcare Report: Uncovering Barriers and Opportunities.

Ahead of the conference this year—and in support of the theme “Be the Change”—HIMSS conducted qualitative interviews and a survey of more than 2,000 patients and dozens of health system leaders, clinicians, and payers. The resulting report identifies care coordination trends from across the industry, including views on healthcare costs, the increasing use of emerging tools like telehealth, and the promise of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML).

While the report demonstrates that the pandemic accelerated digital health and technology, it further identifies trends that offer insight into how to improve care coordination, as digital health and technology innovation become a bigger part of healthcare.

Six key takeaways from the HIMSS 2021 State of Healthcare Report for care coordination include:

1. As digital health utilization grows, solving healthcare interoperability challenges is critical.
Clinicians are using digital health solutions, such as remote monitoring tools and telehealth, more rapidly during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the majority of them (more than 60 percent) said achieving interoperability, specifically the coordination between innovative tools and existing systems, continues to pose problems in advancing adoption of digital health tools. Furthermore, 39 percent of clinicians responded that integrating digital health tools into their clinical workflows posed an additional barrier, highlighting the need for increased work to better integrate the adoption of digital health tools with clinician dashboards and electronic medical records (EMRs).

These digital health tools have the potential to enhance care coordination capabilities across the healthcare system with virtual care delivery and remote patient monitoring; but to reach their full potential, clinicians and payers need greater interoperability. For example, without seamless data sharing, providers may be left trying to track down records or information about patients receiving care from not just a variety of in-person providers but telehealth providers as well.

2. Digital programs can improve care coordination and patient outcomes if adoption increases.
Many health systems built out virtual care solutions, like telehealth, rapidly during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, showing tremendous promise for improving care delivery across the healthcare system. Providers could use these tools to add a virtual care layer for patients recently discharged from the hospital, for example, to ensure smooth transitions of care. While the capabilities exist, patient adoption remains a challenge. More than 70 percent of younger generations say one main reason they prefer telehealth is because of convenience, and 44 percent of Gen Z and millennial respondents said they might switch providers if telehealth options aren’t offered going forward.

The full potential of digital health can lead to improved health outcomes, and many key performance indicators illustrate the promise of virtual care supporting physical care. However, although most health systems offer digital programs, 52 percent of providers indicate they have not moved these initiatives beyond the pilot stage. The HIMSS report notes that the main barriers to adoption are over uncertainty with regulatory reimbursement and internal change management.

3. Security concerns of digital health need to be addressed to realize their potential for better patient outcomes.
To realize the promise of digital health to improve outcomes, coordinate care, and reduce readmissions, we need to ensure the security of health data. More than 40 percent of clinicians cited security concerns as a top barrier to adopt digital health tools and protect patient data. A similar number of payers noted these security concerns, and patients worry about organizations’ access to their personal health data, with nearly half resonating with a “big brother” sentiment in healthcare. Despite their concerns, however, more than three-quarters are willing to share their health data for benefits such as early detection, more accurate diagnosis, or better treatment.

4. There is still untapped potential for artificial Intelligence/machine Learning for care coordination.
Another growing trend is the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) in healthcare, with opportunities for AI/ML to support care coordination. Only one in five clinicians have received training in AI/ML, yet an overwhelming 77 percent report they are either using or interested in using AI/ML.

Clinician respondents said AI/ML could help manage their workload but cited improved diagnosis capabilities as the main benefit, with payers and health systems wanting to invest in these solutions to meet their business goals. Some promising AI/ML uses for improved coordination include prioritizing encounters and using risk stratification to identify high-risk/high -need patients.

5. Care coordination and improved interoperability are critical to reducing healthcare costs.
Nearly four out of five patients surveyed cited rising healthcare costs as a problem the industry needs to address, and payers are working to solve this issue through more value-based arrangements.

Delivering value-based care in the right way requires greater focus on care coordination. Value-based care relies on preventive measures, staying in regular contact with patients to understand their needs—including social determinants of health, and intentional coordination between clinicians at all levels of the care team, from the hospital to in-home settings.

6. The use of wearable technology is increasing, but clinicians and payers need ways to integrate this information into existing workflows.
More than one in three patients now use wearable technology to regularly track personal health information like heart rate, blood pressure, sleep, daily steps, and oxygen saturation.

This information can serve as a valuable window into the day-to-day lives of patients outside the clinical setting, providing a powerful tool for better care coordination. Clinicians and payers need to help patients find ways to easily share this data and show how the information can improve outcomes and care coordination among providers.

Conclusion: A call for change continues with HIMSS conference theme  

As many health system leaders, technology experts, and payers attend the HIMSS conference later this summer, they will be thinking about new ways to deliver better outcomes for patients more efficiently. Digital health holds real promise to help drive that change, but it will take a focused effort on care coordination from clinicians, payers, and technology partners. With that in mind, the conference theme— “Be the change”— is a call to all those working in healthcare to move to a more seamless, interoperable, and coordinated healthcare future.