Travis Palmquist is the Senior Vice President of Industry Markets at PointClickCare, and he brings over 25 years of senior living and long-term post-acute care experience to his role. Through the Vision Series, he shares an outlook for a health system that drives care outcomes more efficiently by putting the right data into the right hands, at the right time. He also discusses the role of tech-enabled data sharing in reducing readmissions, as well as what providers can do to best approach a digital transformation.
Describe your vision for a health care system that truly is equipped to serve the aging population in America.
First and foremost, we need a central goal of improving patient outcomes, and in today’s staffing environment, that has to happen more efficiently. I know it seems rather simplistic, but it all boils down to improving patient outcomes at scale. The good news is, the pandemic has driven many developments in alignment with that goal.
Technology will play a key role, but we also have to enable collaboration and provide access to the right data at the right times if we are to make timely interventions and get ahead of these problems. I heard a great analogy recently from another leader at PointClickCare.
He said, “Amazon knows when we need dog food and Target knows when we need diapers, but our practitioners don’t necessarily know when we need intervention.” That’s where technology is making strides and when we describe a health care system that’s truly equipped to serve the aging population; care collaboration and data sharing will be critical in managing chronic disease and reducing readmissions. We just have to provide greater access to the right information, so the right interventions can take place.
How far do you think we are from reaching that vision?
We’re a lot closer than one might think. Given the severity of this pandemic, we’ve seen some things leap forward out of sheer necessity. COVID exacerbated our need for a truly connected health care ecosystem, and we’ve gone down that path in the first one, but you’ve also seen some other technology emerge that will complement and support that care collaboration.
Telehealth and remote patient monitoring are great examples. Getting the right data in front of the right people, at the right time will absolutely have an impact on outcomes at scale. These technologies existed before the pandemic, but COVID-19 forced people to step out of their comfort zones and adopt them. That positioned us to take a big step forward.
I don’t think we can ignore the need to reduce dependency on physically present caregivers. Patients desire to be in their homes faster, whether their home be a residential home, a congregate home, and assisted living, or senior living, skilled nursing. Wherever that might be, they want to be in an environment where they can leverage their independence. Technology can help drive that, and we’re a lot closer than it seems.
If you could change one thing about the current experience that aging Americans face, what would it be and why?
I am going to cheat and mention two things… I would like to offer more but I will do my best to respect the integrity of the question. First, we need to improve the experience and reduce the risks that transitioning from one setting to the next presents. This is a stressful time and the information needs to seamlessly follow the patient and it needs to be accurate and current. This goes beyond medication reconciliation (although that is a big one!) and vitals. Personal preferences, chronic disease management information, and social determinates of health also need to fill in the picture of what the patient needs all include. Second, patients need convenient access to their health care providers. There have been several services that have made life more convenient for us all – from UberEATS to Grub Hub to grocery shopping services. The days of having to drudge into a waiting room for check up and risk exposure to other illness should be numbered. We need to continue to leverage evolving capabilities to provide excellent health care services virtually.
At the end of the day, the patient should always be at the center of what we do. The patient can be better informed, and I think we can empower them to be better self-directed. But ultimately, the practitioner needs to be heavily involved in making the right decisions. They can’t make those decisions without information. If you’re talking about facilitating care transitions, and who is responsible for overseeing that continuity of care, it takes a team. I don’t think you can put that on any single individual’s shoulders which reiterates the importance of advancing collaboration tools and capabilities.
What role does technology play in allowing individuals to age well, and what technology developments excite you most in how they are addressing age-related challenges?
We’re in a time where embracing technology is no longer an option. It’s not just about delivering better care, but it’s also about reducing the administrative and data burden on the staff. We have to enable our care providers to do more with less and provide the best care possible while faced with fewer resources.
We’re seeing digital health systems turn out incredible amounts of patient data. That data can be analyzed for treatments and timely intervention and it can identify patients who are at the highest risk so practitioners can intervene. Access to data is critical in helping them age well and in improving their quality of life and life expectancy. Again, this data goes beyond health care information and needs to include social determinates of health. Social determinates have a tremendous impact on how we age. We need to be more informed and make better decisions sooner and unleash the impact this has on how well we age.
We have the ability and the technology. The more standardized data we have, the more predictive we can become. The more predictive we can become, the better we can get ahead of significant events and prevent more events from occurring. We’re seeing health systems and payers come together in this space, and they’re looking for it. They want those models, but we need enough data to unleash the power of them.
What do you think is the single biggest hurdle to achieving better care for the aging population?
We talk like it’s really easy to break down these silos and put the right information in front of the right person at the right time. The reality is, that’s a heavy lift and it takes heavy investment. Data integration would be my simple response to, “What’s the biggest hurdle?” If you look at the average health system, they use at least 18 different health records across different partners and providers. Sharing data insights and establishing seamless workflows are a big challenge.
If we can at least use a single platform that spans the care continuum and connects all those disparate systems, we can overcome that hurdle. Whether that’s patients in a skilled nursing facility or assisted living, we have an EHR that covers approximately 23,000 locations across the country. But that’s only one component.
If you look at where things are headed, we’re making significant investments today in connecting all those other places. Whether it be connecting to the right person at the hospital, the right payer or providing information to the right [health information exchange], there are many opportunities to provide a single pane of glass with a customized view that helps drive timely interventions. We have to put the right data at their fingertips and alert them to the patient needs. Data integration is the biggest hurdle to that. Without a holistic and integrated view, health care providers will not be able to drive the highest quality of care.
What advice do you have for providers who are struggling to make a digital transformation?
The health care industry tends to be a bit slow at adopting technology, but we’re not alone. It’s not simply that the post-acute world has been a bit slow — it’s health care in general. But if providers aren’t prioritizing digitization in their organizations today, it’s going to become increasingly challenging to remain competitive. The time where digitization was for early adopters is quickly passing. Now, it is something you need to be a strong player in that continuum.
For providers that aren’t sure where to begin, I would start by doing an honest evaluation audit, so to speak, of where you’re at. Then establish a tech vision without overwhelming yourself. If you establish that vision and take an honest audit of where you’re at, you can determine what your organization needs to prioritize? I know it’s an age-old adage, but “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” If you let months go by, pretty soon months turn into years, and years turn into more. That can’t be your mode of urgency right now.
You need to have a vision, do an honest evaluation of where you’re at, and start taking action to close that gap. I think you’ll find that there are a lot of great partners out there to help you along that journey. It may not be as daunting of a task as you think. Just take it one step at a time. Have your action plan, monitor your progress and pretty soon you’ll be in a much healthier place.
On a final note, there’s not a provider we talk to that’s not deeply impacted by the current staffing environment. At least ask yourself why you’re struggling with this path to digitalization and determine if it is staffing-related or financial. You need to be open to learning how technology can help solve for those two. Put it this way, if you’re kicking that can down the curb because of the staffing situation you’re in, pursuing digitalization may be able to help with both.
I think a lot of people are surprised when they learn that technology is more than just workflows and automation, and it can truly help providers do more with less. That is especially important in a time where resources are scarce.
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