Richard White, Clinical Trials Lead, Life Sciences at PointClickCare

Richard White is Clinical Trials Lead, Life Sciences at PointClickCare. Through the Vision Series, Richard shares his outlook for the aging health system of tomorrow with an emphasis on artificial intelligence and machine learning. He discusses the evolving role of data in the health system, and he explains why data sharing will be a key driver of patient outcomes moving forward. He also talks about some of the greatest opportunities in senior care through a data and technology lens.

Describe your vision for a health care system that truly is equipped to serve the aging population in America.

The answer is quite complex, but the complexity lies in the question itself because health care is a system. It’s highly complex and fragmented, so one person’s journey through the system is very different from another’s. No two patients are identical. The aging population is even more complex due to the number of comorbidities, medications and treatment options that create even greater challenges. I think the vision must start with information, and inherently, data.

Capturing the data can be done actively or passively using sensors and other tech, but the challenge is the mounting volume and what we can do with it. A patient’s overall health picture encompasses much more than just their medical record. It’s not a linear relationship between observation, diagnosis and treatment. It’s more of a complex intermingling of their disease states, genetics, daily routines, social determinants of health, and ultimately, the desired outcome the physician or the caregiver might have for that patient.

The system is capturing that information; however, connecting it, analyzing it and deriving actionable insights from it is really where the challenge is. What would the vision be? The vision would be a world where all of that patient “health data” comes together in a meaningful way; a world that utilizes AI and ML to provide immediate decision support for frontline care workers, leading to meaningful decisions that drive better outcomes for those patients. I feel like we’re on that path, but it’s a long and bumpy road.

How far are we from reaching that vision?

From the market’s focus on health data to the number of initiatives launched in the last 12 months alone, health care-focused companies and big tech are both working to realize this vision. You’re seeing that across the spectrum. Ten years ago, care coordination was a buzzword; it was a dream. Now, companies like PointClickCare are making it real. Following a patient’s journey through the health system so risk bearers and providers know where they are is only the beginning.

I’m not sure we will ever know when we’re there, but the journey has begun, and advances in AI and [machine learning] over the next 5 to 10 years will likely have an enormous impact on health care. It will be like a false summit, where you climb to the peak of a mountain only to find there is another ascent on the other side of the “top.” There’s no time more exciting in health care than right now, because we are trying to solve some of the industry’s biggest problems.

If you could change one thing about the current experience that aging Americans face, what would it be, and why?

I alluded to it in terms of the complexity of the aging American’s journey in the health system. Think about someone with 3, 4, 5, 10 different comorbidities, seeing multiple specialists for ongoing diagnostic tests and treatments. Now imagine that their spouse or children need to help them navigate that complexity. How do they do that? The specialists are working in silos because they’re treating what they were trained to treat.

They’re trying to manage medication side effects and treatment protocols, and schedule procedures. It is nearly an impossible situation that’s created because the data is not being leveraged to benefit the patient. If I had a magic wand and could change one thing, it would be to improve the data sharing within all the disparate systems that still exist. If they could connect an AI engine or an ML engine that could be layered on top to help providers make decisions, help families understand what Mom and Dad are doing and what they’re going through, and help that patient navigate their treatment, it would change the experience for every stakeholder involved.

What can individual care providers do to better facilitate care transitions for the aging population? And who should be responsible for overseeing the continuity of care in your opinion?

Continuity of care and care transitions should be built into the logic of the health system itself. If we have a shared goal of improving patient outcomes, it’s everyone’s responsibility. It doesn’t fall on any sole individual within the system, it is the responsibility of everyone in the chain. Everyone has to look at it that way. From a software platform perspective, like PointClickCare, for example, we need to make sure we have the right information being captured in the right format so the data can be shared between systems.

From a caregiver or provider perspective, they need to ensure the data being entered is correct and complete. Then from a health system perspective, they need to join and adopt collaboration platforms that compile and expose that data across care settings, without feeling protective of their data. The focus should be on the patient, with the common goal of improving care and outcomes.

What, in your opinion, is the biggest opportunity for providers of senior housing and care with respect to the aging population in 2022?

I feel like the biggest opportunity is directly tied to the biggest challenges that they’re facing. When we speak with our customers today, the greatest challenge they’re facing is the staff shortage crisis. This has long been the case for our customers, but Covid added a force multiplier in there. People who care for aging populations are incredibly special people. They’re very loving, caring and selfless, but covid-related challenges have taken a severe toll.

For our industry, the opportunity is finding ways to support those challenges. As providers work to better attract and retain talent, we, as technology providers, need to find ways to support those programs with technologies that create efficiencies, allowing caregivers to spend more time doing what they love, caring for patients. Much of the challenge is tied to the sector’s financial health, and its ability to pay attractive wages. But working with our customers to eliminate costs is another focus and opportunity that will help stabilize that fragile situation.

Business Process Outsourcing, or BPO, will likely be a trend in the coming years that would drive costs out of the system to support the people and providers who are caring for this aging population.

What role does technology play in allowing individuals to age well? And what technology developments excite you most?

If we think about care 20 years ago, the caregiver’s role was predominantly managed on paper. If there was a system, those systems were all disparate and no information was being shared between them. All the while, the caregiver was trying to provide high levels of personalized care. But if you fast forward to today, we have EHR systems that manage all the aspects of the patient’s care.

We have integrated tech that interoperates to exchange information. We’ve got passive sensors that ingest and expose valuable insight data. There are also tech-enabled care pathways, decision support tools and multiple access points into the patient health record to ensure that they’re getting what they need when they need it, regardless of the setting and visibility for their family into the care journey. One thing that we can thank the pandemic for is the adoption of telemedicine. Being able to connect with physicians and specialists remotely has been a game-changer, and it will continue to be.

As far as the most exciting development, a common thread is the use of AI and ML in analyzing the troves of patient data that exist to help drive better decisions and better outcomes. New tech startups and existing players are challenging themselves to solve incredibly complex problems in care. I’m excited to see where that goes.

As you look into the future, what do you see as the single biggest hurdle to achieving better care for the aging population?

I think it has to be data, and it’s two-faceted — it’s the data access side and the data quality side. If we’re going to leverage all the wonderful advances in computing and improved care for this vulnerable population, we need to ensure that a) the data we need to do that is available, and b) the quality of that data is reliable. If you can’t get the data because it’s either in the wrong format, or it’s unstructured, or it’s in a system that can’t be accessed, then it has no value.

If you can access the data, but the quality is so poor that it’s not reliable, then, again, it’s not useful. This is an industry-wide hurdle that can’t possibly be solved by one or even several players. It has to be what everyone strives for.

How can individuals set themselves up for success in navigating today’s system for the aging population?

I think there are three things that can be done by either the individual themselves, or the person helping them. No. 1 is that they need to do their research, and the amount of information out there can make it overwhelming. Especially for the aging population, it’s incredibly daunting for them to research different solutions in the market.

No. 2 is that they need to get familiar with technology. They don’t need to know how to code, but they need to be able to use a smartphone. They need to be able to use a tablet. They need to be able to download an app and use it because that’s the simplest way to become engaged in part of their care journey. This is the only way they’ll be able to take control of that journey.

No. 3 is that they need an advocate and someone who will be at the center of their care circle. Unfortunately, the system doesn’t always work as smoothly as everyone would like, so they need someone who’s in touch with their entire care team and can organize their path. This can be a family member, a care provider, or even their doctor, but they need someone to advocate on their behalf.

How has [PointClickCare’s] Lighthouse initiative evolved over the past year?

We’ve made some incredible strides on the Lighthouse side. From a data perspective, we’ve increased the amount of data we’re extracting from the health record in PointClickCare. We’ve improved the richness of that data by going broader and deeper into the data and providing it to life science companies. That’s been exciting. With over 5 million longitudinal health records now going back several years, we can provide data sets to life sciences for this aging population that are many factors more comprehensive than anyone else in the market.

We’ve forged partnerships with data aggregators and resellers like HealthVerity and Datavant. They combine our data sets and again, improve the quality of the PointClickCare data. We’ve also signed agreements with some of the largest life science companies that are using our data for real-world evidence, real-world data, even phase four clinical trials, and hopefully in the future, working on phase two and phase three trials as well. We’ve also signed agreements with government organizations and agencies like the CDC and the NIH, so our horizon looks even brighter.

We’re enhancing our data pipe to respond to the market in terms of the market demands for the data. Now, we’re looking at ways to access unstructured data within our platform, things like patient notes and notes within the patient chart. We’re engaging with life science companies to help them use our data to identify patients for clinical trials. And we’re actively seeking other partnerships that align with our vision to collaborate and further enhance our impact on the health care system. There are exciting times ahead.

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