Editor’s note: This blog was authored by Jeffrey Thomas, Chief Technology Officer, Sentara
In our digitally enabled world, we’ve come to expect instant access to information, services and products. Until recently, people have had limited insight into their own medical information and little choice in how they receive healthcare services. As one of the nation’s top integrated healthcare systems, Sentara Healthcare decided to drive industry transformation, starting with our own digital services.
Acting on foresight
Several years ago, my team and I recognized that we had to focus on developing solutions that make it easier for our patients and health plan members to access their own personal information and consume our service offerings. For example, patients were still having to call to schedule appointments, drive to medical clinics to meet with their doctor, and wait for a phone call to get an answer to a particular question. We wanted to develop digital services to provide our patients with more self-service options such as the ability to schedule appointments, message clinicians, and meet by video with doctors wherever they were — at homes, offices or even hotel rooms.
To realize our customer-centric vision, we had to simplify data access for all our users, regardless of their geographic location. We also had to maximize IT staff efficiency, so they could spend more of their time developing new services for patients. This meant replacing our traditional IT model — which was built on siloed systems — with a highly agile, secure and flexible multi-cloud solution (pdf attachment).
We were proposing a complete overhaul of our culture, technologies and workflows, along with how we interacted with our stakeholders. Working with healthcare data leaves no margin for error, so we engaged Dell Technologies as a strategic partner to help design and implement a data-first, cloud-smart model that could meet our existing and future requirements.
Being ready for the unexpected
All the new digital services that we implemented emphasized the critical importance of greater IT agility.
The pandemic hit shortly after we had completed the initial rollout of our multi-cloud solution from Dell Technologies. As a result, we already had in place a highly flexible infrastructure, allowing us to quickly pivot and meet our new requirements with minimal cost and interruption. Leveraging our existing workforce, we immediately rolled out new types of telehealth services so that patients could still get needed care during quarantines, wherever they were sheltering in place. We also enabled many of our employees to work from home, while meeting our requirements for network security and data protection.
With our new capabilities, we accelerated data access by 88% and streamlined our electronic medical-record workflows. Instead of taking 15 hours, processing data from the system now takes just two. We’re also saving millions of dollars yearly in IT operational costs.
Transparency that empowers
Today, we have the IT infrastructure foundation needed to expand what we call Sentara’s “digital front door,” to give patients greater insight into their health data and expand how they can interact with their care teams. Our IT department is also working with clinicians and other staff to ensure they have the tools they need to stay productive and improve communication and collaboration with patients.
Increasing data transparency in our industry ultimately improves healthcare. When patients receive their test results as quickly as their doctors do, there’s less waiting and unnecessary anxiety. By providing digital information along with test results, we help people understand what numbers mean and if any action is recommended. Armed with actual data about their own health, people can then use this information to make lifestyle adjustments and avoid ungrounded fear.
As patients get access to a continuous stream of personalized healthcare data, they can become more proactive about their own wellness. For example, they’ll be able to ask informed questions about why a test result continues to change, and what they can do to reverse any unhealthy trends. Would diet adjustments or exercise be as — or more — effective than taking medication?
We’ll see other positive outcomes from the collaborative, patient-centric healthcare model. It will drive the creation of new digital solutions designed to help us improve our health at any age. Cost models will also shift, so instead of using valuable resources on reactive care when we’re sick, we’ll invest proactively in helping ourselves live longer, healthier lives.