The Modern-Day Challenges Facing the CEOs of Healthcare Facilities

by Bent Philipson| Wed Sep 30 2020

Healthcare is one of the most rapidly evolving industries, and for good reason. While stagnancy within any other industry may curtail a company's competitive advantage, stagnancy within the healthcare sector can be life changing. It compromises our ability to provide the highest level of care to patients in need.

In order to do right by our patients, the healthcare system must continue to evolve. And while this transformation is necessary, it also poses certain challenges to our existing infrastructure. 

As such, CEOs of healthcare facilities often find the healthcare landscape a difficult one to navigate. For example, virtual care has completely transformed how doctors and patients communicate with one another. The COVID-19 pandemic has put telehealth capabilities to the test, proving all the more how digitized healthcare is revolutionizing the industry. But while all signs point to radical change, the U.S. healthcare system is impeding widespread adoption.

Throw in other age-old issues like talent acquisition, regulation changes, and increasing oversight and it's clear that healthcare leaders face immense pressure influencing change in such a dynamic field. Implementing effective solutions is only possible when leaders fully understand these challenges and how they could impact their organizations. 

Staying on top of technological advancements

Emerging technology is critical to the betterment of our healthcare system. It's not only the most effective solution for better care, but it also lessens the impact healthcare organizations and patients feel when there are complications within the industry. 

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) predicts that the U.S. will experience a shortage of 122,000 physicians by 2032. COVID-19 is only worsening the impact of this shortage as doctors, nurses, and other healthcare staff who become sick are having to be pulled from their workstations. The larger reason for the shortage isn't because professionals are leaving their positions, though -- it's because the population continues to age at an alarming rate. To account for people living longer lives and making sure everyone has equal access to healthcare, it's currently estimated that the United States would need an additional 95,900 doctors and nurses.

But that's not going to happen overnight, or even within the next decade. This is where we see technology's biggest benefits. As healthcare organizations face staff shortages, virtual care options help pick up some of that slack. Telehealth consultations reduce wait times by 20 percent and allow professionals to more easily treat common health conditions and manage chronic illnesses that require more frequent touchpoints.

Telehealth's benefits are undeniable, so why aren't we seeing it everywhere? Sometimes knowing something is good isn't enough to set it in motion. Healthcare leaders must introduce virtual care into their existing workflow in a way that feels effortless, they must understand how it fits into their bigger organizational goals, and then they must incite user adoption, which is especially difficult to do with older generations. 

Cybersecurity concerns

You can't talk about technology without talking about privacy and security. One of my biggest undertakings as CEO of a New York nursing home has been converting our organization to the cloud. Cloud adoption is a no-brainer, but data security and HIPAA compliance concerns are a real threat.

In 2018, over 471 million patient records in the United States were exposed by cyberattacks. Cloud technology is meant to enhance patient care, but when patient information is compromised, it can have dire consequences. Just a few years ago, healthcare organizations were exposed to the worst cybersecurity attack in history. 

The attack happened after a cyber gang called Shadow Brokers released a ransomware called WannaCry and wreaked havoc across the world. More than 20 healthcare organizations were affected; in some instances, doctors and nurses even had to turn patients away and cancel life-saving surgeries. And there are countless examples like this.

The healthcare industry holds some of the most sensitive information available, yet it fails to adequately address information security. When asked about their cybersecurity efforts, over 81 percent of healthcare executives have reported that their organizations experienced some level of attack within the last few years. This hasn't only proven costly for the healthcare system, but it puts patient lives at risk. 

Shifting from volume to value-based care

The healthcare industry is finally recognizing the need to move from volume to value-based care. Fee-for-service has been the commonplace for so long, but we're seeing more organizations start to implement fee-for-value structures instead. 

In volume-based care, a successful system is measured by high-profit margins not quality of care. The opposite is true in value-based care, which takes a holistic view of patient health and services. Because healthcare executives have the best interest of their patients in mind, they work to connect their department initiatives and their ongoing staff education to match that end goal. 

Value-based care is the solution to what is wrong with our current healthcare system. It reduces healthcare costs, particularly for those with chronic health conditions, which are influenced by patient outcomes. It also leads to healthier populations. In a world where half the population doesn't have access to essential, life-saving services and 13 percent of Americans — or around 34 million people — know one person who has died from not being able to afford critical medical attention, value-based care is the answer. 

Yet, most monumental change comes with hurdles blocking widespread adoption. Some healthcare CEOs lack the operational wherewithal to implement these initiatives. Value-based care also requires specific technology in order to be successful. Going back to the struggles some healthcare leaders have with technological inclusion, this often becomes another setback. 

We are at the forefront of systematic change. For healthcare executives, riding this sea of change is difficult, but we must. As we move forward, we need to question and challenge the outdated and traditional processes, resources, and procedures that were once revered in the past. There will be hurdles to face every day, but when your focus is on your patients and staff, overcoming these barriers is worth it for the healthcare industry’s future, and theirs.

How Technology Has Senior Care Soaring Into the Cloud

Imagine that you're an elderly diabetic patient in your early 80s. Today you're having a routine checkup with your doctor just to make sure everything is in tip-top shape. But instead of going to a doctor’s office, you simply log on to your computer for a brief consultation. 

With just a few clicks, your doctor uploads all the data from your wearable device so they can take a look at your blood glucose levels and vital signs. Your appointment is over in a matter of minutes. You didn't have to find transportation to the doctor's office, nor did you have to schedule your entire day around the appointment. In fact, all you had to do was open your computer for a routine checkup.

This may sound like a futuristic scene out of a sci-fi movie, but cloud-based technology has made this a present-day reality for seniors. 

The senior care industry has historically been slow to adopt technological advancements such as cloud solutions for a number of reasons, not the least of which concerns data security and HIPAA compliance. To make matters more complicated, a high volume of patient information would need to be converted to the cloud, and we’d be asking significant behavioral changes of a generation not particularly well-known for its technological proficiency.

But an increased fervor in cloud adoption couldn't have come at a better time. With COVID-19 affecting seniors more than any other age group, telehealth has become a prudent alternative for certain in-person doctor visits. Medicare recently expanded their coverage for telemedicine to ensure that seniors are still getting the medical attention they need, while also keeping them safe from avoidable exposure.

Beyond the current pandemic, ten thousand people are also set to turn 65 every day for the next 20 years in the United States alone. Longer lifespans mean an increased need for medical care. One in five boomers have already been diagnosed with diabetes. Over half of their generation has been prescribed pills to lessen the effects of hypertension, which is all the more important because 40 percent of boomers are considered obese. And this list is just the tip of the health-issues iceberg. It's projected that by 2030, 60 percent of the generation will be managing more than one chronic health condition.

Caring for an increasingly aging population will continue to put a strain on senior care unless we embrace new solutions that account for these demographic shifts. Thankfully, that shift is well underway. 

Technology isn't just a young person's game anymore. An increasing number of seniors now own smartphones and various smart devices. Over 17 percent have even started using wearable devices in their everyday lives. Younger generations may covet wearables to track their fitness and weight loss journeys, but the advantages extend far beyond counting calories.

Smart devices can now measure a person's heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and oxygen levels. One new gadget can even analyze blood sugar levels without an incision. Others can detect falls in real-time and will send an alert to a call center that will immediately dispatch emergency services to the person's home.

Wearables give seniors peace of mind knowing they're protected if their health would take an abrupt turn for the worse. Gone are the days of countless tests to pinpoint what's causing the health issue, and weeks of having to wait for those test results to come back. With wearables, a physician or nurse can remotely monitor a patient’s vitals from afar, alleviating the strain on the senior care system and minimizing unnecessary, routine appointments. 

Many seniors worry that remote checkups won't allow for the same quality of care, but the evidence indicates otherwise. A recent study shows that telemedicine results in 38 percent fewer hospital admissions, 31 percent fewer readmissions and over 60 percent of people spend fewer consecutive days in the hospital.

Remote monitoring can also help seniors take control of their own health on a more regular basis. Say someone suffers from a severe heart condition, for example. By monitoring their vitals, a patient’s wearable device can incentivize them to stay away from salty snacks that could have dire consequences. These technologies are so advanced they can even signal whether a heart palpitation is being caused by indigestion or is a sign of something more serious.

It's common for seniors to live more sedentary lifestyles, especially those that struggle with physical ailments or other chronic health conditions. But we know that sedentary lifestyles worsen the majority of health issues, which is why an age and health-appropriate exercise regimen is so important for longevity and stamina. Just as wearables can monitor medical conditions, they can also keep seniors on track with their health and activity levels, providing a much-needed breath of independence.

While cloud technology’s advantages are significant, they are not without challenges. While the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services temporarily loosened HIPAA restrictions to allow greater access to telehealth during the COVID-19 outbreak, it is unclear to what extent that will remain so afterward. Similar uncertainties surround Medicare’s expanded telemedicine coverage.

Also of particular importance is ongoing staff education. In order to provide the best care to patients, nurses and physicians need access to updated policies, procedures, and resources that inform care and treatment options. Thankfully, the cloud also makes staff education easier, serving as a one-stop database for guidelines and changes in treatment, technology, and protocols.

Cloud technology allows healthcare facilities to achieve the holy grail of senior care: it's cost-effective, it allows for operational efficiency, and it encourages better outcomes through patient independence. It is not a replacement for face-to-face care, but it does provide much-needed support to a heavily strained system. The level of care we provide to residents and patients only goes as far as the innovations we choose to enmesh within our operations. If we don't take cloud technologies seriously, we only hurt those we claim to serve.