Reflections on the healthcare environment in 2022, and thoughts on the year ahead

The past 12 months have allowed the nation and our healthcare organizations to work toward achieving a new normal in terms of patient care delivery and the management of our information services teams.

Two of the most significant trends of 2022 were the transition of COVID-19 toward endemic status and the impact of the “great resignation” – particularly within our clinical communities.

Many healthcare systems faced the departure of front line clinicians, who bore the brunt of the pandemic, and left the healthcare space in droves. A significant void in personnel remained with the significant task to maintain clinical operations.

While leaders in the industry addressed this situation by using the services of temporary staffing agencies to supplement and provide the necessary clinical talent, it created financial strain on medical establishments at a substantial cost that was much more than budgeted.

This scenario, along with other supply chain and inflationary burdens, has placed the majority of healthcare provider organizations under significant financial pressure.

Given these challenges to healthcare delivery, and the lingering pandemic, our efforts in the upcoming year and beyond will need to focus on using the power and innovation of technology to minimize expenses, enhance revenues, further engage patients and reduce clinician burnout.

Most healthcare provider organizations have made significant strides in deploying their electronic health record that serves as the foundation and electronic glue, connecting the providers with their patients.

Continued enhancements made to the EHR platform and supported expansionary efforts have become part of the standard care and feeding of the EHR. The stage has been set for this fundamental platform to be used to address the pain points that have come to a head in 2022. I believe that the EHR is key to advance newer technologies and support the needs of this ever changing environment.

From the perspective of the Penn Medicine organization, our Epic EHR (branded as PennChart) is critical to leveraging our investment for future technology innovations that impact patient care in the most optimal ways.

At our organization, additional strategies, demonstrated through several key initiatives below, are currently underway to help set a steady course for the future as we head into 2023.

  • It is still all about the people! While we rely on technology to ease some of the burdens felt from 2022, focusing on our employees is key, whether they are the technicians designing the newest features or the caregivers using them in support of patient care. Understanding an employee’s career goals and working with them to develop a career path that leverages their subject matter expertise, career aspirations, and remain connected to their organization is paramount. Without a strong team, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to enable the many operational objectives of the organization.

  • Due to the closure of multiple large regional healthcare facilities, our region has seen an explosion in the need for behavioral health support. With the majority of behavioral health patients arriving in our emergency departments, enhanced EHR functionality and referral capabilities will be deployed to help address this issue through the deployment of our behavioral health module. 

  • Penn Medicine has made additional strides into value based care reimbursement models. These relatively new financial models will require additional technology design of continuity of care functionality and data analytics reporting to properly track and report on patient activity and outcomes.

  • Creating further digitization to manage the overall patient engagement experience will help reduce friction in gaining access to the needed doctors and medical care that patients need. Enhanced telephony solutions, combined with a more seamless and personalized customer relationship management experience, will further engage our patients in their care in a more convenient and cost effective manner.

  • As a leading academic medical center, Penn Medicine has been and will continue to be on the forefront of incorporating precision medicine into healthcare by leveraging discrete genomic results and other research enabled discoveries into the EHR to provide the most optimal patient clinical care.

  • We are beginning the early stages of analysis, investigating ambient listening technology. With a goal of reducing documentation typing for our providers, allowing more physician/patient time and improving overall physician satisfaction, we have observed that this emerging technology has the potential to be a game changer for our clinicians. 

While I predict that 2023 will be another year of significant change; it will require organizations to display nimbleness to execute their strategic plans. As evidenced in other industries, those that can successfully navigate the identified challenges will come out of this turbulence even stronger than before.

The collaboration between information services and our operational representatives is ever more critical. Teamwork will be the critical component for successful healthcare organizations in 2023. I’m proud of our organization’s past and present ability to collaborate in some of the most difficult situations and know this teamwork will propel Penn Medicine to new heights in the upcoming year.

Mike Restuccia is the chief information officer of Penn Medicine