What's on the horizon for healthcare beyond COVID-19? Cerner, Epic and Meditech executives share their takes

Darren Dworkin, CIO and SVP at Cedars-Sinai Health (top left), moderated a panel discussion with Epic CEO and founder Judy Faulkner, Cerner President Donald Trigg (bottom right) and Howard Messing, CEO of Meditech, during a CHIME virtual panel. (CHIME)(Fierce Healthcare)

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed major logistical challenges in healthcare as collecting and sharing medical data is still often a manual process.

The nation's public health reporting infrastructure needs to be modernized, and COVID-19 vaccine records need to be digitized, industry stakeholders say.

Howard Messing, CEO of Meditech, a company that provides software for hospitals to collect and store electronic medical records, saw this firsthand when receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.

"I had my vaccination a few weeks ago and it was a card table, next to a hot dog stand in Fenway Park, with not a computer in sight. Clearly, we’ve got to figure out how to do this better. We can’t rely on paper records anymore," he said.

While healthcare is focused on using advanced technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning to drive innovation, there are many examples of "low-hanging fruit," such as better data sharing, that the industry needs to focus on going forward, Messing said Wednesday during the virtual CHIME21 Spring Forum hosted by the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives.

RELATED: Why experts say the information blocking ban will be game changing for patients

Messing joined Epic CEO and founder Judy Faulkner and Donald Trigg, president of Cerner, to discuss the trends shaping the future of healthcare and health tech.

As digital adoption in healthcare grows, spurred on by the pandemic, organizations will need to consider the evolution of the provider-patient relationship, Trigg said. As industries like banking and travel offer consumers more digital services and less physical face-to-face interactions, consumer satisfaction has increased, he noted. 

But providers shouldn't assume that approach will work in healthcare.

"We need to think about the digital-physical mix, the relationship between providers and patients and how you meet and exceed expectations of consumers within your market," Trigg said. "Understanding communication preferences is a critical dimension as far as engagement."

He added, "We're going to see more engaged consumers and that's going to take some real art from provider organizations to develop strategies around that."

Healthcare organizations shouldn't dismiss the rising influence of companies like Google, Amazon and Apple, Messing said.

"They are plugged into the consumer and our industry needs to be coordinated with that. The ultimate goal is not to please the doctors but to please the patients," he said.

For health systems, one critical factor for consumer engagement is rebuilding trust in the healthcare system, according to Messing.

"It's really clear there is distrust in the system. And some will say it's because of politics, but there was underlying mistrust there," he said, noting health IT companies have a role to play by making systems easier for consumers to use.

New interoperability regulations will open up patients' access to their medical records while efforts around data standardization will make that information more useful, Faulkner said.

"Patients want access to their data whenever they desire it, and they want the health system to take care of it for them. They don’t want to manage it themselves, but they want access to it," she said.

RELATED: EHR vendors ramping up focus on patient messaging tools as healthcare consumerism takes hold

Faulkner also foresees continued efforts to "mesh together" EHR and genomic data to help clinicians gain a better understanding of patients.

"There will be more research on that data and then feeding that research back to the clinicians so that evidence-based medicine can go from 10% available to 90% available at the moment the doctor needs it," she said.

In the "new normal," providers and payers will face ongoing shifts in payment models and a trend toward payer-provider convergence, according to Trigg.

"We'll see a new value equation around the person, focused on cost and convenience and experience," he said. "We also have to think a great deal about the governmental role and policy now with Washington as the largest regulator and largest payer."

As health systems look to build out "digital front doors" for patients and expand healthcare services outside the four walls of the hospital, these organizations will look to health IT companies to provide software to help tackle those challenges.

"The problems that provider organizations are asking us to solve are pretty simple. There’s a heavy appetite to look at the EHR and figure out how to drive service-line growth, create efficiencies, make money at Medicare and Medicaid rates, drive care outside the hospital and make provider health networks operate effectively against that strategy," Trigg said.

As the healthcare industry tackles a growing affordability crisis, there is a large role for health IT vendors to play to address those issues, the executives said.

"We need to play an active part in tackling the cost curve that will define U.S. healthcare in the decade ahead," Trigg said.