Health IT

How high-performing care teams can work smarter, not harder – and deliver better care

My father was the master of teaching me and my siblings life lessons about work, priorities, and balance. We lived on the upper foothills of Utah’s Wasatch Mountain range. Over the course of my teenage years, he skillfully tasked us with individual and group projects – gardening, weeding, building sheds, restoring cars – even working in […]

My father was the master of teaching me and my siblings life lessons about work, priorities, and balance. We lived on the upper foothills of Utah’s Wasatch Mountain range. Over the course of my teenage years, he skillfully tasked us with individual and group projects – gardening, weeding, building sheds, restoring cars – even working in a landscaping business
and a firewood business. These work opportunities were balanced with commitments to family, faith, academics, and athletic pursuits throughout the year.

In the winter, snowstorms roll across the Great Salt Lake Valley and dump massive amounts of snow all over the region. When we were kids, my father never bothered to buy an automatic snow blower but he did make clear that it was our automatic duty to shovel the driveway with each passing storm. When my youngest brother moved away to college, one of the first things my father did was purchase an automatic snow blower. After all, his students had graduated. I didn’t fully realize what he was teaching us until I was older.

Care teams, like families, succeed when everyone can work together to balance the workload.

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A Deep-dive Into Specialty Pharma

A specialty drug is a class of prescription medications used to treat complex, chronic or rare medical conditions. Although this classification was originally intended to define the treatment of rare, also termed “orphan” diseases, affecting fewer than 200,000 people in the US, more recently, specialty drugs have emerged as the cornerstone of treatment for chronic and complex diseases such as cancer, autoimmune conditions, diabetes, hepatitis C, and HIV/AIDS.

Not too long ago, I sat with a nurse discussing her work with patients. In describing a typical day, she said something I’ll never forget: “I love and hate my job.  I love that I can care for my patients – it’s why I became a nurse. I hate that I have no time… no time each day to get done what needs to be done for my patients. I always feel like we’re falling behind, while not being recognized for the great work we do. And the load is overwhelming.”

We hear this “overloaded” theme again and again in our work with clinicians, patients and their caregivers. As an organization our mission is to help simplify complex care for everyone involved. Successful team-based care requires not just a shift in philosophy but appropriate technology to support care coordination. We’ve been fortunate to work with leading organizations tackling these challenges.

Here are several important considerations we and our partners have identified to help care teams (e.g., providers, patients, caregivers, community resources, etc.) balance the workload and maximize their impact.

  • Common Clinical Space
    We see that 80% of a care team’s work is non-clinical in nature, so communication via secure electronic tools is critical. All members of a patient’s care team need a common clinical space, ideally web-based, to efficiently communicate and gain shared understanding of the real-time state of care with the patient. Community resources should also be involved in care teams as key players in care delivery. This common space must be established with appropriate privacy protections and meet security requirements.
  • Simplicity vs. Complexity
    You’ve seen this data point before: 5% of patients account for 50% of healthcare costs in the United States. These patients have complex needs, and their care teams manage correspondingly complex pathways and protocols. The traditional health information technology (HIT) platforms have many characteristics, but simplicity is not one of them – especially for complex care. Luckily for care teams specializing in complex care, there are new modalities of technology currently on the market that providers and patients can utilize to coordinate, manage and transition care across settings. Healthcare professionals are demanding these intuitive, cost-effective platforms in their organizations.
  • Patient-Centered Care
    For all the talk in healthcare about patient-centered care, we don’t yet really see much evidence of adoption around these fundamentals in practice. When was the last time somebody at your provider’s office asked you about your personal healthcare goals, and helped you plan your way to achieve those goals? The real power-up in healthcare is when a provider organization and a patient are aligned around shared goals. This serves as a valuable starting point to make meaningful health improvements. This approach may not initially align to clinical priorities today, but offers the strongest long-term path to better outcomes and sustainable economics.
  • Clinical Interoperability
    The market is demanding innovative solutions for accessing healthcare data at the point of care, and for patient access to personal health information across the care continuum. Standards such as SMART have defined new models of HIT, based on substitutable applications that can be added to or deleted from EMRs. These solutions are available using the latest technology stacks and can connect via the web, intranet or mobile device. Using this model, HIT will help high-performing care teams to finally achieve clinical interoperability, allowing everybody on the team to know each other’s roles, know the care plan, and know the status of care.
  • Execution is Everything
    In America we’re familiar with the phrase, “It’s the economy, stupid,” which became a political slogan in the 1992 presidential campaign. Likewise, in healthcare today the simple message could be, “It’s the execution, stupid.” Among healthcare leaders, we see a strong focus on patient satisfaction scores along with new care models like ACOs. In order to manage execution across care teams, leaders need better measurement tools. Many organizations have defined pathways and care plans as templates to drive care. While these are improvements, they lack breadth and access across the continuum of care. High-performing care teams need tools that enable them to manage, communicate and measure execution.

We still have significant opportunities to understand the most efficient and effective methods to deliver care.

Patient and caregiver accountability is changing with new technology and innovative care models. I’m excited because every player in the healthcare industry is actively investing in these new models. Solutions are emerging which bring scale and leverage for providers and their patients. The magic for care teams will come when we learn to effectively and efficiency manage our shared workload by leveraging all available resources and technology to meet our commitments, scale our efforts, and do it with the team of people around us.


Utah Mountain Photo: Flickr user utahwildflowers