Health care industry experiencing new technology innovation drive

This article appeared in the January 2023 edition of the Chickasaw Times

“Within the whole of health care, there is an explosion of technology driving care forward.” – Chickasaw Nation Secretary of Health Dr. Charles Grim

New technology can mean many things for health care. It can manifest as new treatments, new ways to access those treatments, new methods to connect with a health care provider or the ability to monitor one’s own health data in real time. The Chickasaw Nation is implementing state-of-the-art technology to ensure patients receive the best holistic health care possible.

“Technology aids our ability to incorporate mental, physical and preventative care services,” Chickasaw Nation Secretary of Health Dr. Charles Grim said. “To tie this all together and assure patients maintain a sense of community, the Chickasaw Nation Department of Health (CNDH) has focused on assuring each patient has a medical home and primary care provider, and that they can depend on CNDH to pay attention to their personal health care needs.”

An ounce of prevention

Spotting something before it becomes an issue for the patients can save them a lot of trouble, time and money. In addition to the regular work CNDH staff put in to detect issues as early as possible, there are a couple other technologies they utilize to incorporate preventative health care into their overall model.

“At present, many of the advantages provided by technology include making health care workers aware of unmet needs in patients, gaps in care, needed intervention and/or connecting patients via remote technology,” Dr. Grim said.

The Inchokma Mobile Medical Unit was added to CNDH services in 2017. It allows providers to take health care to communities where patients live. This unit provides primary preventive health care and chronic disease management, including preventative wellness exams for all ages. It also provides patient and family education, behavioral screenings and intervention, simple excision and simple laceration repair, point-of-service laboratory and laboratory collection, injections and immunizations.

Technology in the future, Dr. Grim said, was moving toward providing easier patient access to their personal health data and helping to identify issues as early as possible through remote monitoring of this data by caregivers.

“Prevention and behavior change to impact behavior-based illnesses will become more and more widespread,” he said. “Precision medicine will target therapies with the greatest impacts on health to the right people at the right time.”

Remote access to programs and services

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the need for remote access to many of the things we use every day. Across the world, many professions implemented new ways for people to access the services they provided.

“During the pandemic, up to 80% of CNDH services were virtualized and delivered by telehealth,” Dr. Grim. said

This allowed patients to attend appointments with their care providers remotely and avoid exposure to COVID-19. It also allowed some health care personnel to work remotely and decrease their exposure.

“Technology has allowed us to increase access to care, improved quality, proved to be safe and convenient, and allowed patient/provider relationships to continue in the absence of face-to-face interactions,” Dr. Grim said. “Within the whole of health care, there is an explosion of technology driving care forward. Clinical interactions are increasingly utilizing remote patient monitoring and remote therapeutic monitoring to deliver care and active management of patients. Digital medicine is utilizing electronic interactions to either affect human behavior or affect health directly as valid therapeutics that rival traditional prescription drug therapy.”

As the pandemic continues into the endemic phase, many of these remote accessibility options will continue for visits about minor and chronic conditions.

While remote accessibility improved safety and access, there were also challenges.

Patients with difficulty hearing or speaking, or patients with limited or no access to technology, still need in-person visits to receive the best possible care. Sometimes face-to-face interaction is necessary for connection with both patients and caregivers. Dr. Grim said the CNDH wants patients to know in-person visits are still available to those who need them.

“One of the ways we have worked with patients to improve their experience is through education on what remote services are offered and allowing them to choose remote or in-person visits,” he said.

Consolidating data sources

Data utilized by CNDH has historically come from multiple systems and sources. Recently, the CNDH worked together with Health Catalyst to create a multisource electronic data warehouse (EDW) where that data could be found, accessed and effectively analyzed in a single location.

“Health Catalyst has enabled CNDH to move forward rapidly in the development of quality scorecards, dashboards and automated action reports, and population health query tools for investigation and quality improvement,” Dr. Grim said.

This platform allows CNDH’s quality improvement, data analytics and education teams to identify ways to use these tools to lead development of the most efficient and effective clinical pathways.

As new technologies develop and are deployed in health care, the CNDH is optimistic about its ability to provide the best health care available to its patients.

“Seeing equipment and services that are similar or superior to that which is offered in nontribal health settings lets patients know that their health is important and the quality and caliber of care offered to them is meeting high standards,” Dr. Grim said.