April 23, 2020
Digital Care Improves Care Coordination But Also Helps Reduce Infection Spread
Our country’s response to the Coronavirus outbreak will teach us many lessons. One of those lessons that presented itself early on is the need to virtualize some aspects of medicine from telehealth to teleradiology, which can’t be fully realized without interoperability. Now more than ever, it is imperative that healthcare workers can access, visualize, and virtualize all types of medical information without physical exchange. The lack of digital connections between primary care doctors with urgent care centers with imaging centers and with acute care or specialty hospitals negatively impacts care coordination, patient satisfaction, and health care costs but as many providers are now identifying, is also is a gap in many clinical workflows that increase the risk of infectious disease.
Unfortunately, 80% of healthcare still uses CDs to exchange medical images & data
COVID-19 as a significant respiratory illness represents unique challenges for every person involved in the radiology workflow whether it is the technician managing the patient and equipment, the front office staff managing triage and scheduling, or physicians. While the priority of many facilities has focused in this current crisis on physical management of the patient to avoid infection spread, with those changes implemented, many facilities are next recognizing they also need to manage the CDs patients bring to the facility. During a public health crisis, the last thing any healthcare worker wants is for a patient, whether symptomatic or asymptomatic, to show up with a CD that may be handled by many people in the office and introduce any level of infection risk. The common practice of producing CDs and receiving them from patients is beginning to be something practices now regret considering a low priority.
The technology to digitally transfer medical images and information at scale, across all manufacturers, in a highly interoperable way, eliminating the need for CDs, was principally created by Life Image and has been widely available for more than a decade. And while many of the larger, more urban health systems have digital connections in place with their main referral sites, no site is fully digital and many smaller institutions and especially those in more rural communities are not yet connected for digital transfer. It is imperative to establish these digital connections, which can be done quickly and cost-effectively without a lot of demand for hospital IT staff.
Interoperability should be routine
In the same way that the public is asked to wash their hands as a routine, the seamless and frictionless digital sharing of medical data to improve patient care should also be a simple, routine experience. The technology exists today to make this happen and while it’s already routine in the consumer world, adoption has been slow to in healthcare for a variety of reasons.
As healthcare IT professionals, it’s imperative that we help hospitals and other providers quickly ramp up and accelerate their interoperability. A successful lesson of COVID-19 related to healthcare IT has been to apply technology that currently exists first, even if used in other settings, before creating or implementing newer or untested technologies. How many physicians, for example, went immediately to using on-line video to speak to their patients, from a wide variety of existing technology vendors rather than attempting to lead with untested solutions promising more comprehensively integrated solutions. So use what you know works, even if it’s not perfect, and build upon that systematically rather than leap to more elegant solutions that require time, effort, expertise, and money to implement during a crisis.
In relation to medical imaging and the efforts to digitize it for both the quality of patient care and the safety of those providing the care, work with established companies, avoid betting on next-generation solutions to minimize your immediate workflow risks, and don’t lose track of advancing interoperability so you can respond more quickly in the future.
Matthew A. Michela
President and CEO