From The Editor | February 8, 2013

Technology & The Rise Of The Healthcare Extender

Ken Congdon, Editor In Chief of Health IT Outcomes

By Ken Congdon, Editor In Chief,
Follow Me On Twitter @KenOnHIT

Much has been written about how increased health IT adoption is impacting physicians and the care they provide patients. However, few have considered how technology is being leveraged by healthcare extenders. What’s a healthcare extender you ask? Healthcare extenders are non-MD healthcare professionals that interact directly with patients. They include nurse practitioners, medical assistants, health educators, social workers, and registered dieticians. As the healthcare industry shifts in light of reform, care coordination will become paramount, yet providers will likely face unprecedented physician shortages. As a result, healthcare extenders will play an ever increasing role not only in the delivery of care, but also the ongoing nurturing of patient relationships.

Technology tools, particularly mobile devices, have been widely used by physicians to enhance operational workflows and overall performance. These tools can provide healthcare extenders with similar benefits. However, a recent study by HealthEd Academy shows that technology is still widely underutilized by these health professionals. HealthEd Academy’s survey of 155 healthcare extenders revealed the following:

  • Whereas a 2012 survey by HIMSS showed that more than 80% of physicians own tablet devices, HealthEd Academy’s survey revealed that only 30% (3 in 10) healthcare extenders own a tablet, and only 20% (2 in 10) use a tablet when interacting with patients. However, 60% (6 in 10) healthcare extenders say they wish they had a tablet computer to interact with patients.
  • Similarly, 2 in 3 healthcare extenders surveyed by HealthEd Academy has a smartphone, but only 1 in 4 uses this device when interacting with patients.
  • 95% of healthcare extenders surveyed say they still primarily use printed handouts to educate patients.

So, why isn’t technology being leveraged more by the healthcare extender community? Are they technology averse? Do they feel it negatively impacts patient interactions? No. According to the survey, 64% of healthcare extenders that use technology believe it has had a positive impact on their interactions with patients. Moreover, 79% of extenders who use mobile apps report their interactions with patients have improved. At the same time, only 3% of respondents stated that technology introduced distractions or obstacles.

My theory is simple. The IT wave that is currently sweeping through healthcare has yet to penetrate the healthcare extender level. Providers have been so focused on putting systems in place and managing physician change, that most have yet to consider how these technologies should be leveraged by other healthcare professionals. However, given the expanded role extenders will likely play in the healthcare ecosystem of the very near future, providers would be wise to include healthcare extenders in their technology roll outs.