Although it seems basic now, Kim Garriott, Principal Consultant, Healthcare Strategies for Logicalis Healthcare Solutions, remembers a time when getting a PC with a 20 megabyte hard drive was exciting.
“We’ve come so far since then, but I was fortunate to start my career in a place where I really got to grow with the industry,” she said. “I was able to try a lot of different things.”
From her beginning as systems analyst to consulting for some of the most preeminent healthcare systems in the country on process improvement and project management to being a recognized as a national thought leader in enterprise clinical imaging, Garriott built her career with hands-on experience in a lot of different areas, giving her a well-rounded background in health IT.
Today, she uses that diverse experience to drive business and sales development and help her clients more fully leverage their technology investments while improving workflows for clinicians. But no matter what your role in health IT, Garriott stresses the importance of communication.
We spoke with her about the challenges and future of telehealth, and the most important things she’s learned in the industry:
While there are still challenges in implementing telehealth services, Garriott sees better communication as the solution.
Aside from reimbursement and government legislation that is continually being passed to help our providers be paid, I think that there are challenges with telehealth adoption — both on the consumer and provider side. For example, there are still a large number of physicians who think that the patient needs to be right there with them to form a personal bond and deliver the best care possible. And in a lot of ways, they’re not incorrect. But that doesn’t mean telehealth services don’t have their merits.
On the consumer-side, I think it’s a natural challenge with patient demographics. We have patients who range in age from the elderly to the young. And telehealth is very focused — at least, in part — on leveraging technology, so patients do need to have some understanding of the tech. We’ll see that barrier continue to erode as younger generations come of age.
Overall, the communication of services that are available is another challenge. Both providers and patients need to understand first, what services are available, and then, how to use them. It goes back to communication, communication, communication.
There are oftentimes a lot of questions that clinicians have. You can’t just roll in a piece of technology and expect physicians to turn on the camera and start seeing patients right away. You really need to coach them through different things. For example, you need to tell them not to look at a patient’s face on your monitor because if you do, you’re not actually looking at the patient on the other end. Or what to do if a patient needs emergency medical attention during the virtual visit.
As we become familiar and telehealth becomes more and more known, that barrier will continue to erode as well.
Telehealth and workflow
For telehealth to be adopted by more physicians, it needs to be naturally integrated with how they already provide services to patients.
Especially here in our practice at Logicalis, we really focus on developing workflow processes that are in-tune and aligned with the actual clinical workflow that a doctor would provide for an office visit.
Whenever physicians have to interact with technology, we want to make it as simple and efficient as possible. That way, conducting a telehealth virtual visit is treated just the same as seeing a patient in their office. They don’t have to walk to a different room, pull out a special piece of equipment, and have someone set it up for them every time they want to conduct a visit.
Technology needs to be intuitive and natural for clinicians and match the processes that they already use with their patients as closely as possible.
The future of telehealth
While there are still challenges in using telehealth, it’s set to become a bigger part of the healthcare system in the near future.
I think we’ll see a convergence of our traditional practice of medicine and our electronic practice of medicine. It won’t be telemedicine and medicine — it will just be the practice of medicine, and it really will converge in how we care for our patients.
We’ll always have in-person visits to some extent, but in care scenarios where the patient can be seen via virtual technology, I think that will become commonplace. And hopefully our patients will be healthier for it. Because medicine will be much more accessible.
We’ll remove transportation barriers and other types of barriers like patients needing to get off work for in-person visits. There are number of people in our country who can’t take time off for a doctor’s appointment. For these patients, seeing a physician in the middle of the day is a big deal. So I believe, as we increase accessibility and remove those barriers, that’s going to encourage better health habits and allow patients to be more proactive in seeking out medical care.
Communication is key
While technology is important in health IT, tech skills aren’t always the most valuable in the industry.
Oftentimes, especially in IT, folks tend to think that everything is about the technology when, in fact, it’s about the user experience. The technology is just the enabling component. While tech is important to us in the industry, it’s really not that important to everyone else, except in the sense that they don’t want it to make their lives harder. They really want to leverage it in a way that’s going to make their workflow and their life better.
I remember a meeting with a team of surgical nurses when a colleague who’s very IT focused led the conversation. It was very application and technology centric, and you could see the nurses’ eyes glaze over. They couldn’t relate to it. But when I started to talk to them about their workflow and the challenges they have in their day, they lit up. You have to know your audience.
I think being able to listen to those you serve and having a sense of understanding of where they’re coming from is hands-down the most important skill you can have. Having those empathy skills, listening skills, and really tailoring your communication to your audience is key in everything we do.
While tech is often the first thing on the minds of IT professionals, the focus is really the patient. And that means developing solutions that allow clinicians to work smarter, not harder.
A mistake that we’ve had — and I think we’re overcoming this in health IT — is assuming we know what’s best for the end user. “It’s just one more click. How can that be a big deal?”
We all should keep in mind that we want our clinicians to focus on the patient. We don’t want them focused on the technology. If the patient was your mom, your sister, your child, or even yourself, you would want that doctor’s or nurse’s full attention on patient care. You don’t want them having to click around, or for the technology to get in the way. Technology needs to be very intuitive and very easy to use so the clinician can focus all their mind power on the patient.
It’s an old saying, but it’s important — patients first. That’s why we’re all here. That’s why we have a job in this industry, to ultimately make things better for the patient.
How do you think health IT helps put patients first? Share your experiences in the comments below!Why Communication is The Most Important Skill in Health IT -- Insights from Logicalis Healthcare Solutions’ Kim Garriott by Tim