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Pandemic accelerated interoperability need

Pandemic accelerated interoperability need

Between Zoom meetings, working remotely and virtual schooling, COVID-19 dramatically altered the way we connect with each other over the past year and in some respects, it forced people to utilize and better understand communications technology. It is emblematic of the adage “necessity is the mother of invention” – especially for HME providers toward business automation and interoperability.

Information technology specialists are encouraged by signs of burgeoning connectivity within the healthcare provider continuum, whether due to the pandemic’s influence or not.

“COVID has accelerated technology adoption across the healthcare continuum, including HME, and has forced a more patient-centric viewpoint,” said Nick Knowlton, vice president of business development for Peachtree Corners, Ga.-based Brightree. “This has in turn highlighted the need for more integrated systems that can enhance the patient journey. Increasingly, providers are adopting connected technologies like remote patient monitoring, automated resupply and patient-facing tools that offer transparency and multiple, low-effort touchpoints for engagement.”

Consequently, the pandemic has accelerated the existing need for interoperability between HMEs and their referral sources, “who often feel patients disappear upon transitioning into post-acute care,” he said, citing a survey that found nearly 100% of acute and ambulatory providers are engaging with other care providers through interoperability and increasingly expect their downstream counterparts in post-acute care to do the same.

“Interoperability and connected tools, such as ePrescribe, eliminate the burden of managing fax traffic and extraneous phone calls, which transitioned from simply burdensome to nearly untenable during the early work-from-home days,” Knowlton said. “Interoperability and connected care ensure everyone in a patient’s care journey has the necessary information to provide the best possible experience. The pressures of the pandemic did accelerate the adoption trends we were already seeing.”

Doug Iversen, director of sales and marketing for Billings, Mont.-based Computers Unlimited, isn’t convinced that the pandemic is directly responsible for the advancement of interoperability in healthcare, but maintains that “the operational changes introduced by the pandemic have certainly underscored and accelerated the need for richer systematic interfaces. Providers were forced to shift the way they deliver services to their patients and in doing so, they have been challenged with changing workflows, delivery methodologies and adjusting to the payer billing and documentation rules related to the pandemic.”

The pandemic has also served as a reminder to HME providers “how important it is to be agile and adaptable to ever-changing payer requirements,” added Jeanette Eklund, product manager for Brightree.

For example, she points out that when Medicare lifted its local coverage determinations on April 6, 2020, providers suddenly had much more flexibility around documentation requirements for reimbursement. Brightree’s new Comprehensive Patient Intake tool allows providers to take control of this process and define the rules they want their staff to adhere to on a per-payer and per-product basis.

“With this change, we found some providers wanted to adhere to the LCDs they had been using, while others wanted to take advantage of the new flexibility,” she said. “This flexibility and customization built into the product enables providers to quickly enact changes based on new regulations, while helping them remain consistent across their organization.”

Realizing potential

Billing system technology has gotten so sophisticated that its functions go well beyond billing into all areas of operation. But are HME providers capitalizing on the capabilities? Eklund says yes.

“HME providers are leveraging technology now more than ever, especially to communicate with referral sources, vendors and their patients,” she said. “In the last year, the pandemic has accelerated adoption of technologies such as ePrescribe/eReferral and electronic drop ship as a preferred fulfillment option. Providers have also been leveraging automated resupply software to increase and maintain their resupply business, helping with financial stability throughout the pandemic. The operational efficiencies gained through these automated electronic workflows during COVID will serve as a solid foundation for further expansion once its behind us.”

Courtney Baker, medical sales and marketing liaison for Computers Unlimited says its array of systems help providers “improve the patient experience with multiple fulfillment choices for each patient order, including low-contact mobile delivery to the patient’s home.” The integrated delivery app is designed to automate several delivery functions, producing accurate data and quicker confirmation of deliveries.

Other CU system focal points include asset management, compliance management and business intelligence.

“Systems continue to evolve in order to provide rich and predictive information, but there’s a catch -- it is all based on having the data,” Baker said. “If a provider’s system is not capturing the data, fewer of the important questions cannot be answered – having ‘a hunch’ will only get you so far.”


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