American healthcare is in the midst of big changes. These changes are largely the result of an industry entering, adapting and coming to terms with a world gone digital.
Like most changes, these come with growing pains. “Healthcare has always been driven by information and technology, even if the information wasn’t always readily available and the technology wasn’t always state of the art,” says Tom Vignau, President and CFO of Advantel Networks. “If anything, the ascendancy of the computer has served to bring the technological side of medicine into sharper relief.”
Healthcare providers have not always been eager to adopt new technologies. Instead, they’ve been selective, embracing some changes like innovations in surgical instruments, drugs and medical imaging. The more mundane improvements, even when they pertained to core functions like record-keeping and inter-office communications, have tended to lag behind.
This is less true today as the focus has shifted. When President Obama first addressed the American healthcare system, it wasn’t the subject of medical breakthroughs that made headlines. He talked about communication, medical records, accessing data, and the day-to-day processes that were part of a system in need of modernization. That focus has been felt throughout the sector.
The potential benefits of changes on that front are obvious – at least in theory. Providers will have information at their fingertips. Mistakes will be reduced, if not eliminated altogether. Test results will be instantly available to those who need them. Duplication will be eliminated. Practitioners will share information with ease, making communication more efficient. The system will be streamlined. Costs will be contained. The result will be nothing but great news for providers and patients alike.
In practice, the road has not always been smooth. Providers didn’t always embrace these new options, often seeing them as more of a burden than a blessing.
That’s not because the changes themselves or the goals they sought to reach were fatally misguided. Instead, the bumpy road is part of an old story, a story that can be told about any industry: Even a plan that’s brilliantly conceived will flounder in the face of poor implementation.
For Advantel, doing things right are words we live by, and they become especially pertinent when dealing with the unique challenges of the healthcare industry. It’s an environment that’s riddled with legacy systems frequently incompatible with each other.
Reliability is critical, but speed and ease of use can’t be sacrificed on its behalf. Systems need to adapt to the needs of different providers and different facilities. If learning curves are steep, users won’t buy into what you’re selling. In this field, they have more pressing priorities.
If these factors aren’t enough of a challenge, add in mandates for confidentiality, strict security requirements, and harsh government regulations on system design and implementation.
It’s no wonder medical professionals are left shaking their heads in frustration at some of the purported solutions they’ve encountered. Generic systems won’t do the job. Healthcare systems need to be built specifically for healthcare. System builders need to understand and respond to providers’ needs at every turn, and they need to recognize that a grand vision, however worthy its goals, will not compensate for mediocre execution.
Healthcare is different. The stakes are the ultimate stakes, and literally a matter of life and death. At Advantel, we are committed to ensuring that our work in the healthcare sector reflects that fact.