Next-gen health IT consulting: Moving into post-EHR era

Consultants weigh in on what hospitals should expect from them as healthcare moves beyond digitization and into the age of consumerism.
By Bill Siwicki
01:11 PM
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next-gen health IT consulting to focus on data science

Jeff Geppert, a senior research leader at Battelle, believes next-gen health IT consulting services will focus “on data science and applications that leverage large and connected datasets.”

Healthcare information technology is evolving in many ways, and quickly so. That means health IT consulting has to change with the times, to evolve alongside the technology consultants help healthcare provider organizations master.

Consultants from top firms across the health IT consulting spectrum have various ideas on what firms must do next to successfully aid provider organizations with technology. Call them next-generation health IT consulting goals.

For example, health IT consultants must move beyond prediction, said Jeff Geppert, a senior research leader at Battelle, an independent research, consulting and development organization that applies science, technology and engineering to challenges in various industries, including healthcare.

“The current narrative on health IT consulting services is becoming commonplace,” he said. “The focus is on data science and applications that leverage large and connected datasets, powered by predictive analytics and artificial intelligence/machine learning running in the cloud.”

However, there is nothing very transformative about prediction, he cautioned.

“It is by necessity short-term and event-driven,” he said. “Healthcare provider organization CIOs should be looking for health IT consultants with a compelling long-term and goal-driven vision, and a plan to work with them to bring that vision about.”

Geppert also focuses on a concept he dubs “the new Model T.”

"The focus [of health IT consulting] will shift to extracting more value from investments and identifying which new investments are necessary to drive competitive advantage for the system."

John Curin, Burwood Group

“Health IT consulting today seems like the auto industry a hundred years ago with multiple companies competing to build the most technologically advanced car,” he said. “Somewhere out there is the Henry Ford of health IT who will build something inexpensive, standardized, aligned with the needs of people, and scalable from individuals to the federal government.”

Healthcare provider organization CIOs should be looking to partner with health IT consultants with demonstrated longevity across multiple industries, he added.

John Curin, vice president of innovation at Burwood Group, a healthcare consulting firm that focuses on direct acute care, physician workflow and health IT, said he sees healthcare CIOs watching consulting services expanding beyond the EHR.

“The vast majority of the health IT consulting space has been overwhelmingly EHR-centric up to this point,” he contended. “Today, EHR and revenue cycle systems migration is largely complete or well-understood. The focus will shift to extracting more value from those investments and identifying which new investments are necessary to drive competitive advantage for the system.”

Further, consultants will offer services to help healthcare providers transition – the shift will be toward internally developed interdisciplinary strategies with a focus on systemwide financial and clinical outcomes improvement, Curin said.

“For example, to make IT more successful, CIOs will stop reacting to external plans and timelines, such as regulatory compliance introduced by meaningful use or vendor roadmaps based on product lifecycle and implementation schedules,” he said. “Instead, they will start building frameworks to drive better financial and clinical performance.”

"The time is now for CIOs to embrace consumerism and create a digital strategy that becomes a competitive advantage"

Rob Barras, CTG Health Solutions

On another note, consumerism is significantly affecting healthcare today, forcing healthcare provider organizations to meet changing patient expectations. Along with receiving the best medical care available, today’s healthcare consumers also expect a first class experience across every touchpoint at an organization.

“With expectations becoming increasingly ‘consumerized,’ executives are realizing that their healthcare organization will be judged on how patients rate their overall experience,” said Rob Barras, executive leader, health solutions, at CTG Health Solutions, a clinical and financial IT consulting firm that serves healthcare provider, payer and life science organizations. “This means that meeting these demands needs to be front of mind for CIOs.”

This trend toward a consumerism approach will accelerate significantly, and health IT consultants will have to be on top of it to successfully assist healthcare provider organizations, Barras said. Soon, Amazon, Wal-Mart, CVS and Apple will consider themselves care providers, he added. And while most traditional health systems are doing business as usual, smart CIOs will plan ahead to match the future expectations set by these retail giants in yet another industry, he said.

“Many of these major players believe there is an opportunity to capitalize on what they believe traditional providers have been slow to do – provide easy access and quality care at a reasonable and transparent price,” he said. “The time is now for CIOs to embrace consumerism and create a digital strategy that becomes a competitive advantage, and for consulting firms to rush to assist with this stage in the planning process.”

And Barras said that moving forward, health IT consultants have to be getting healthcare provider organizations implementing the latest healthcare information technologies now, not later.

“For the past couple of years, many healthcare organizations have treated emerging technologies as somewhat of a luxury and not as something with immediate business value,” he said. “However, technologies have matured quickly and already are being implemented to meet business needs, meaning organizations without structured plans to roll out the latest in analytic, AI and IoT solutions are in danger of falling out of step with competitors.”

This means that health IT consultants must focus on becoming innovation hubs – as opposed to internal caretakers – of technology to provide true value to healthcare clients, Barras added.

“The right CIO can help change the mindset of an organization, but that change must be supported from the top down,” he advised. “A key to this is working with consulting partners who understand that using technology is a way to create competitive advantage for the future. Providers should engage partners who can clearly articulate the value of their work and the vision.”

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Twitter: @SiwickiHealthIT
Email the writer: bill.siwicki@himssmedia.com