In the 2022 Healthcare Provider IT Report: Post-Pandemic Investment Priorities, management consulting firm Bain & Company explores healthcare software investment priorities for healthcare providers, plus corresponding opportunities for vendors. According to the article, COVID-19 was a catalyst for bifurcated software spending in addition to areas including revenue cycle management, cybersecurity, patient portals, EHR workflow optimization, and telehealth.
Where Providers Plan to Invest and Why
Healthcare providers – now more than ever – have heightened expectations for technology, including electronic health records (EHRs), and are willing to invest in it. In fact, this report states software is now a top five strategic priority for nearly 80% of provider organizations and a top three priority for almost 40%.
Again, the impact of the pandemic is instrumental in these investment decisions. COVID-related issues, including labor shortages and burnout among healthcare providers, continue to impact providers across the country.
In addition, providers cite the pandemic-era wage inflation as a reason to lean more heavily into software solutions. According to the report, because of the labor shortage and inflation, “providers are looking to software solutions to boost productivity and automate tasks, with the ultimate goal of stronger financial outcomes and higher-quality patient care.”
Healthcare providers do not plan to ease up on technology investments any time soon. In fact, over the next year, the report indicates that:
- More than 95% of providers expect to make new software investments, with one-third planning significant new investments
- Approximately 35% of providers say that because of the current environment, they plan to spend more than usual over the next 12 months as they seek productivity and efficiency improvements to address rising margin pressure and labor tightening
- Roughly 30% say that they will likely spend less than they would in more favorable conditions over the next year
The following sections detail the top five areas for IT investment in the upcoming year, including EHR workflow optimization, according to Bain & Company’s report.
Revenue Cycle Management
An area where providers plan to invest significantly will be in revenue cycle management (RCM) software. The report states that investments in RCM technology will be essential for the financial health of an organization, “given the direct link with cash collections as well as the labor-intensive nature of revenue cycle processes.” For smaller provider organizations, this will be especially true. However, the report adds that all the providers surveyed indicated that RCM will be a key area for improvement in the next year, due to priorities including:
- Maintaining revenue integrity
- Accurately capturing charges
- Correctly navigating complex claims
Considering that enhanced RCM modules as part of an EHR workflow optimization strategy can help increase payments, decrease labor costs, and improve a practice’s bottom line, it is not surprising that providers consider it a top priority.
For a health system’s financial well-being, it is important to have a steady stream of income. Unfortunately, many healthcare providers and their staff simply do not have the time or expertise to handle RCM internally, which can lead to:
- Decreased reimbursement due to improper coding, training, or workflows
- Increased claim denials due to poor workflows, improper use of data, or lack of timeliness
- Payments stuck in A/R due to a lack of processes and patient engagement
- Unoptimized workflows or limited capacity
- Staff turnover due to frustration
Therefore, outsourcing RCM as part of an overall EHR workflow optimization strategy is the best, most cost-effective solution for many providers.
Security and privacy concerns are not new. From 2018 to 2021, the number of data breaches reported by providers to the US Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights nearly doubled for incidents impacting 500 or more medical records. Therefore, it is not surprising that providers plan to continue to invest in cybersecurity software.
As EHRs become more customized with multiple modules, the risk of data breaches becomes far greater and more costly. The report states, “According to data from IBM, the average cost of a provider data breach has now surpassed $10 million, up nearly 40% since 2020.”
Bain’s report adds that regional health systems, freestanding hospitals, and mental health providers are especially focused on security and privacy investments with an emphasis on cybersecurity, IoT security, and patient privacy monitoring. In addition to investing in security-related technology, providers can benefit from an outsourced security consultation and assessment.
The increases in patient intake combined with the healthcare shortage during COVID-19 created an immediate need for an optimized EHR that includes automation and virtual solutions, including online appointment scheduling. One of the reasons for this shift is that providers and patients alike quickly grew to appreciate the convenience of virtual scheduling.
Today, many patients expect their providers to offer a user-friendly patient portal. “Many providers are recognizing the importance of simplifying intake processes to accelerate cash collections and provide more seamless patient experiences in a world where patients increasingly expect to navigate the health system like consumers,” the report says.
Known as an instrumental component of the “digital front door”, patient portals benefit patients in the following ways:
- Convenience – Streamlined patient intake processes can reduce paperwork and be completed electronically at the patient’s convenience
- Access to health information – Self-service digital platforms allow patients to view their appointments, make appointments, view test results, and ask clinicians questions directly Patients can also turn to the practice website to find information that satisfies those frequently asked questions.
- Streamlined communications – Emails and text messages can be read and responded to at the patient’s convenience while automated reminders encourage patients to stay engaged with their healthcare
For providers, the benefits of patient portals include:
- Streamlined workflows – Automated processes (such as artificial intelligence that reduces clerical burden), free up time for providers to improve care quality
- Better integration – Healthcare software interoperability is enhanced when stakeholders such as employers, payers, CMS, specialists, etc. are digitally aligned and have timely access to patient data
- Reduced healthcare costs – Value-based care is highly dependent on early intervention, so using the “digital front door” tools that improve access and encourage engagement allow providers to identify trouble areas sooner using artificial intelligence
Since most existing providers already have an EHR system in place, the focus in the upcoming year will continue to be on optimization. Healthcare providers often find that their EHR creates more work and frustrations, or it does not perform as expected. Rather than going through the time, expense, and other costs of replacing an EHR, providers tend to choose optimization as the more sensible solution.
EHR optimization is the process of identifying all the improvement opportunities and finding solutions to resolve each pain point or flaw. Often opportunities are not easily spotted or require expertise to carry out. Enlisting an experienced EHR consultant can help providers make the most of their existing EHR, including streamlining workflows and enhancing EHR interoperability for overall improved patient care and outcomes.
Telehealth boomed during the COVID-19 pandemic and continues to be a critical strategic priority for providers. EHR vendors have taken notice and are making improvements to telehealth platforms for video consultation and enhanced telehealth functionality. That is a savvy business move, as according to Fortune Business Insights, the telehealth market was at approximately 144 billion USD in 2020 and is expected to grow to 559 billion USD by 2027.
In addition to COVID-19, the scarcity of rural healthcare and rising healthcare costs have driven the dramatic increase in the adoption of telemedicine. The benefits of telehealth for both patients and providers are many, including:
- Cost savings and convenience
- Improved access and quality of care
- Better patient outcomes
With the help of expert consultants, practices can implement HIPAA-compliant telehealth solutions to safely connect with patients outside of office visits while enhancing patient engagement.
Summary: EHR Workflow Optimization and Beyond
Because of the impact of COVID-19 across the healthcare landscape, we can now expect organizations to work to extract more value from available technology including EHR optimization, revenue cycle management optimization, cybersecurity reinforcement, patient portal improvement, and telehealth utilization.
Because the EHR impacts virtually all areas of a healthcare organization, many will pursue EHR improvement. With the effective implementation of EHR software and related healthcare technology, providers can boost patient and staff satisfaction, increase revenue, and improve patient outcomes. As the healthcare landscape continues to shift toward convenient, patient-centric care, IT vendors also will evolve.
Medical Advantage Can Help
At some point, those in a healthcare leadership role will see all the ways that their EHR falls short of its potential. When you know you need to do something about your EHR issues, but just don’t know where to begin, consider working with experienced healthcare consultants.
Our team of EHR experts has developed comprehensive improvement strategies for healthcare organizations of all kinds so that they get more value from this technology investment. Count on Medical Advantage for:
- EHR Optimization
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Get started on EHR improvement now by requesting contact from one of our consultants.