Making Healthier Connections | Straight Talk


The latest insights from your peers on the latest in Enterprise IT, straight to your inbox.

Digital tools can make healthcare more patient friendly, from helping patients book appointments to making sure they get there and home again.

By Jim Morrison, Senior Vice President, Solution Development Organization, Allscripts

Allscripts is a $2 billion healthcare IT company with customers in 17 countries and tens of thousands of providers using our systems daily. Our extensive footprint enables us to connect communities on a large scale and provides a level of expertise that helps providers deliver the best care to individuals and populations.

Our patient database includes 151 million unique patient records, which makes it one of the largest patient data sets in the world. This is a competitive differentiator for us. Such a large database enables us to deliver advanced analytic solutions and insights focused on improving care quality and patient outcomes for large populations.

Another competitive advantage is our vision to build open, connected communities of health. By that I mean making sure that the right person gets the right information at the right time to deliver the right care. Privacy regulations that govern healthcare data exchange can at times slow the industry's adoption of new technologies. Despite that, at Allscripts, we have long been committed to interoperability that delivers more than data. We believe that data must be useful to the clinician at the point of care.

Our users expect technology to empower them and engage their patients in a healthier tomorrow.

Drawing on existing technologies

We build tools into our systems that make healthcare technology simpler and more seamless for everyone involved.

For example, there will always be a need for a relatively low-tech alternative to online patient portals for people who don't or can't use the Internet to make, change, and cancel appointments. So, we built text messaging into our practice management systems. It sends text messages to remind patients about appointments and ask them to confirm. Over time, the system notices which patients are failing to respond or missing their appointments, and it sends those higher-risk patients a recorded phone call rather than a text message. If that still gets no response, it alerts the office staff to call in person.

The system can also send texts that remind patients to take their medicine, alert them to stop eating 12 hours before a scheduled lab test, or invite them to change an appointment because a spot has opened up on the doctor's schedule. It's simple technology that saves time for the patient and the office staff.

Another problem we wanted to solve was the barrier to care created when a patient doesn't have or can't afford transportation. Our answer was to partner with Lyft to build ride-hailing into our solution. Today, a hospital or clinic can ask as part of its scheduling workflow, "Do you need a ride, and would you like us to set one up for you?" If the patient says yes, the system hooks into Lyft's API to schedule a ride with a driver who has an appropriate vehicle and is certified as a healthcare driver. The patient doesn't have to worry about how to get to the appointment, and the provider gets reimbursed by payers who realize that it's cheaper to help patients get to an appointment than to deal with the consequences of them not seeing their doctor when they should. In fact, we're working on an AI project with Microsoft to predict which patients are most likely to need a ride and schedule that transportation for them automatically.

I'm especially excited about the potential of e-visits that let people interact with providers using apps on their mobile device. It's already possible to take someone's blood pressure remotely with their smart phone. As technology and infrastructure get more sophisticated, we're going to see relatively inexpensive Internet of Things devices doing basic diagnostics. Imagine a device that takes a drop of blood, performs some basic diagnostics, and connects to your phone to send the results for further analysis without requiring you to go to a doctor or lab. It will be faster and less expensive than office visits, and it will be an efficient way for a doctor to provide care and get reimbursed.

Incorporating IoT devices into healthcare will also save lives. You can't ask a diabetic patient to call their doctor daily to report their weight, but if they have a scale that automatically transmits their weight to the doctor's office daily and alerts someone on the team to call the patient if their weight has a sudden significant spike, it could help prevent a medical emergency.

Data is powerful…and problematic

I mentioned that our data warehouse contains the de-identified records of 151 million unique patients. That's about half the size of the US population, and it includes genomic data. We're able to search for specific diagnostic markers that help clinicians match treatments to patients and potentially turn up needed tests and treatments. It creates a whole new level of analysis and insight. Our customers include several networks of children's hospitals that are using our tools and data to do groundbreaking work in pediatric oncology. It's incredibly powerful when hospitals leverage today's cloud storage and high-speed connectivity to share data with each other.

However, access to patient data is a huge challenge for healthcare organizations that want to adopt solutions that change how they interact with patients and each other. Healthcare data is highly protected, and for good reason. That’s why our solutions are all about enabling care professionals access to the right information no matter where they are or which vendor or networks they use.

Another challenge is the sheer amount of data a provider or doctor has to provide insurance companies for reimbursement. The information is highly specific, has to be in a particular format, and isn't always captured during the patient encounter. Our commitment to ease the burden on clinicians is second to none. We have made great strides in reducing the impact of this challenge in the latest versions or our practice management software.

Our customers are open to adopting new technologies, and our early adopters are doing amazing things. What I see among our customers is a willingness to partner with organizations like ours so that their patients can benefit from latest technologies. Fortunately, the improvements in connectivity and telemedicine make that more possible in rural areas.

Looking toward a healthy future

We're always looking for more ways to partner with companies that have innovative technologies and bring them into the healthcare space. Our text message reminder system comes from a consumer-oriented company we acquired called HealthGrid

and is now part of our FollowMyHealth technology. We recently acquired and invested in a genomics company called 2bPrecise to advance our genomics precision health platform analytics. Our patient database has grown through our acquisition of a company called Practice Fusion. Basically, we believe in drawing good ideas from wherever we find them.

We're also committed to the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) standards, which require health care IT vendors to make their files exportable and readable. We're opening all of our electronic medical records and using FHIR to make sure patients, providers, payers, and anyone else who needs that information can request it from and provide it to other vendors' systems. It creates a lot of opportunities to share data among both providers and payers, which will let them spend less time on administrative tasks and more time on providing better care.

The Takeaways 

Partnering with technology companies outside your industry enables you to incorporate their innovations instead of creating your own versions from scratch.

Automating basic tasks with machine learning can save scarce resources and improve services simultaneously.

Lagging technology adoption both comes from and causes financial distress. Merging with or being acquired by a larger competitor is often the best solution.