For more than a decade, Healthcare Informatics has honored those at the forefront of healthcare IT innovation with its Innovator Awards Program. As read in our January issue this year, the Healthcare Informatics Innovator Awards Program again recognized leadership teams from patient care organizations that have effectively deployed information technology in order to improve clinical, administrative, financial, or organizational performance. The Program also distinguishes vendor solution providers that have helped their clients shine in enhancing clinician workflow, exchanging data, or cutting down costs.
Indeed, this year the Innovator Awards program included two tracks for innovation recognition—one for healthcare provider organizations and one for technology solution providers, allowing both sides of the health IT spectrum to submit their examples of transformation. All vendor submissions were given to a selection of Healthcare Informatics expert editorial board members for careful review. The list of all provider and vendor winners in this year’s program could be seen right here.
Over the last few days, Healthcare Informatics has given readers the stories of the vendor winners in the three above-mentioned categories. These technology solution providers are truly blazing the trail for innovation in the health IT vendor market, and we are proud to honor those whose combination of expertise and innovation are shaping the future of healthcare systems.
The 2017 winner in the category of Interoperability is Pulsara, a Bozeman, Mont.-based firm that offers innovative regional care coordination services for acute care settings. Founder and CEO of Pulsara, James Woodson, M.D., spoke with Healthcare Informatics about the mutating definition of interoperability—and why good communication is key to quality healthcare.
Tell me about Pulsara’s vision for Interoperability in healthcare.
James Woodson, M.D.: I’m a practicing emergency medicine physician. Everyone talks about being patient-centric with their solutions but they don’t really focus on the individual workflows of clinicians. We started Pulsara by focusing on the clinical workflows of clinicians and we believe doing so will have the largest impact on patient outcomes. Our mission statement is to unite and empower people to improve health by simplifying communication and care coordination. And that requires interoperability.
But interoperability is a bit of a loaded word. It means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Pulsara’s focus is on communication and patient logistics for regional systems of care. It’s a bit of a different take than a stable hospital focus when you are talking about interoperability. Most people talk about eliminating data silos within a single organization. From our perspective, it’s just not just about the data but also the many communications silos you find within a region—not just for one organization but across entire regions. It’s a big problem.
Good healthcare is about instantaneously building a team of people who can communicate and work together. Consider a time sensitive medical emergency like a heart attack or stroke: you don’t know who the care team members are going to be necessarily—what emergency medical service agency will be called or what hospital within a metro area may be needed for that patient. But even without knowing those things, you need to flip a switch and instantly create a care team so the patient is properly cared for.
So that’s our focus: creating a system where we can bring these different individuals and organizations together. It’s a bit of a different mindset. We understand that one of the keys to establishing interoperability for a region is to have out-of-the-box value for any solution so you can turn it on and manage teams across healthcare entities. Pulsara is built on an API-first kind of platform that allows use of integrations and interfaces to supplement the care provided by the clinicians, both from a concept of communication as well as data input.
James Woodson, M.D.
How do you see the competitive marketplace moving in the interoperability space?
Historically, people have focused on health information exchanges. They’ve focused on data. But the marketplace needs to move towards uniting data and communication. It’s not just about data silos. It’s also about the ability to communicate so different entities can truly unite and provide regional systems of care. It involves pulling together interfacility communication, intrafacility communication, and pre-hospital communication. We need to focus on uniting all three of these components. And that’s what we do.
To what do you attribute Pulsara’s success?
It comes down to understanding care teams. The idea for Pulsara was born as an idea at a party in my democratic emergency medicine group. We came together, thought outside the box, and considered how we could improve regional systems of care through innovative communication. Pulsara’s strength is in the fact that we understand, when it comes to care teams, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. So we focus on building teams within regional systems. We take advantage of the team approach so it’s not just a group of individuals but a real team that is working together towards a common goal—a good patient outcome. We combine that team approach with our clinical understanding and know-how. Because, to communicate well, you have to really understand patient and clinical workflows within these regional systems, too. And by focusing on those two components, we have maximized success.
How do you see the future—both in terms of challenges and opportunities—when it comes to interoperability?
There are two main issues I see in the future. First, we are subjected to working within the constraints of legislation and regulatory agencies. There are a lot of unknowns out there because it really is a market of constant change. Because of those unknowns, we struggle as an industry to understand how to be innovative in a way that is actually useful. We spend a lot of time waiting on the political and other entities to work it all out. It’s a challenge for innovation in general, but also a challenge for how we can make systems more interoperable in the future and share all the information we need to share to provide quality healthcare.
The second challenge is that so many people are focused only within the walls of their own facility. Especially when you are talking about hospital security officers. I get it: It’s hard enough to try to manage and protect everything within just a single organization. But if you are focused on interoperability from a regional mindset, as we are, you have to get out of your comfort zone and pull together data and communication information from multiple different sources that may be outside your control or outside your specific organization.
And this regional mindset is a mindset that more organizations need to be moving towards. If you look at the number of errors that occur in healthcare due to miscommunication, especially during transitions of care, you see that it’s a real problem that needs to be solved. Many times, patients cross different EMS agencies and health systems for a single health event. We need to focus on how we can better communicate during these transitions of care so we can provide quality care. And while it is a challenge, it is also a great opportunity to help patients, which is what we all want.