From The Editor | May 10, 2010

Technology = Healthcare Reform Godsend

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By Ken Congdon, editor in chief, Health IT Outcomes

Whether you view the passing of the healthcare reform bill as a monumental step in the right direction for the U.S. healthcare system or the beginning of it's downfall, one thing is for certain — the reform bill will place unprecedented pressure on healthcare providers across the country over the next several years. Under reform, more than 30 million Americans will become newly insured patients in the healthcare system over the next 10 years. This patient surge creates a demand among healthcare providers to accommodate more patients, not only in hospitals, but in medical office buildings, outpatient centers, and from patient homes as well. Information technology will be a huge factor that enables healthcare providers to successfully accommodate these new patients.

New Doctors Increase Demand For Credentialing Technology
Obviously, more doctors and nurses will be required to treat this influx of newly insured patients. But, where will these new clinicians come from? You can't just pull a qualified doctor or nurse out of thin air — they're hard to come by. Furthermore, only so many new clinicians are set to enter the workforce from colleges and medical schools over this time period. As a result, many suggest that clinicians from foreign countries will be lured from overseas to support American physicians in the evaluation and treatment of the newly insured.

This tactic will place renewed importance on healthcare facilities to invest in robust credentialing technologies. For instance, credentialing foreign clinicians can be much more difficult than credentialing an American clinician. Oftentimes, licensing and historical data aren't as readily available or accessible. Technologies that help support and automate the process of locating and securing this information will be tantamount in ensuring that only qualified clinicians are hired without burdening medical staff professionals with excessive additional job duties. Furthermore, credentialing technology can also help protect your facility from hiring physicians with questionable pasts that may opportunistically come out of the woodwork because of the increased demand for clinicians. More on the value of credentialing technology can be found in my column, Quality Care Begins With Proper Credentialing.

Workforce Optimization Software Ensures Labor Coverage
Ensuring that you have the clinicians you need on your payroll is only the first step in successfully treating the newly insured. A much more important subsequent step is ensuring these clinicians are on the job when you need them to be. Advanced scheduling and workforce optimization technologies can help ensure your healthcare facility doesn't go broke due to the mismanagement of key personnel.

First, workforce optimization software can provide managers with up-to-the-minute visibility into a variety of employee variables including clinician skill sets, specialties, certifications, seniority, shift preferences, and hours worked. With this information at their fingertips, shift managers can more accurately slate available clinicians with the appropriate skill sets to handle patient surges, as opposed to immediately turning to costly agency labor to fill the void. All of these features can help cut overall labor costs and overtime expenses while helping your facility treat patients more effectively. More on the benefits of workforce optimization and advanced scheduling technology can be found in my column, Overcome Healthcare Chaos With Advanced Scheduling Technology.

Telehealth Brings The Doctor To The Patient
Other emerging technologies that will be key in the post reform healthcare system are telehealth solutions. These solutions include remote patient monitoring technologies that keep tabs on chronic diseases such as diabetes, and doctor/patient video conferencing or "telepresence" sessions for follow up exams. These technologies will be instrumental at increasing physician productivity by reducing the number of visits a patient needs to make to a hospital or doctor's office. More on the benefits of telehealth technologies can be found by reading my column, Telehealth On The Rise.

These are just a select few technologies available that can assist your healthcare facility accommodate the pending patient surge brought on by healthcare reform. The better prepared you are to address this challenge, the more successful your healthcare facility will be in the brave new healthcare world.