BayCare Health System, a 15-hospital system based in Clearwater, Fla., is moving forward on many technology fronts to enhance patient engagement and patients’ access to their medical records, as well as expand healthcare services through digital platforms.
BayCare Health System is one of 39 health systems across the country collaborating with tech giant Apple on its health records initiative. The Health Records feature is now available through the health system for patients who have downloaded iOS 11.3 to their phones. Apple announced its health records solution in January with 12 health systems participating as beta testers, and two months later, on March 29, Apple tripled the number of health systems participating, from 12 to 39, which increases the number of patients across the country who can view their medical records right from their iPhones.
A recent report from Orem, Utah-based KLAS Research found that CIOs at the 12 early adopter health systems were optimistic about the Apple Health Records app, and the short-term and long-term potential to impact how provider organizations interact with patients and how patients manage their health. Close to 60 percent of respondents said they expect Apple’s “ready-to-go” patient-record portability to have an immediate positive impact, within zero to six months. According to the report, healthcare executives mentioned three primary benefits of the app—empowering patients, helping to solve interoperability, and speeding innovation and change.
BayCare Health System has made patient information available through the myBayCare patient portal online for several years. The patient portal also is accessible through the BayCare app. Tim Thompson, senior vice president and CIO at BayCare Health System, views the Apple Health Records initiative as another step to improve patient engagement and enhance patients’ involvement in their own care.
“It’s just another avenue for a health system’s patients to have their information at their fingertips. It’s still based off the exact same data that comes out of our portal, so if somebody is used to Apple technology and does other tasks in the Apple health app, that’s another piece of their personal health information that they have at their fingertips inside their app. That is now live and available to patients,” he says.
Since Apple’s health records announcement, industry observers have questioned if the tech giant would be able to succeed in creating a health records platform, especially since other consumer-oriented healthcare outsiders, specifically Microsoft and Google, have failed at this very endeavor. According to the recent KLAS report, Apple’s early provider partners believe Apple has a good chance of not repeating history and that the timing is right. “EMR adoption has never been higher, and thus electronic records have never been as available; smartphones are more entrenched than ever; and interoperability standards (like FHIR) have never been as advanced,” the report stated.
“I think largely those [previous] efforts reflect hospitals putting as much information online as they could to meet a meaningful use criteria, and it wasn’t that helpful to patients,” Thompson says. “Once you get home from the hospital, at least for me personally, I’m not that interested in looking at what my lab values looked like five days ago in a hospital. However, if I’m a chronic patient, and now it’s in my ambulatory office, in my doctor’s office, in my clinic, or at my urgent care center, now I can go in and get my blood tests, on a routine basis, and now I can look at that information and I can see trends. That gives the power to the patient to help them manage their health. I think that’s the difference. I think early on, it was about an encounter at a hospital, and now it’s about managing your health.”
He adds, “At BayCare, for example, whether you have been at our hospital, our urgent care center, at one of our physician’s offices, or to our lab, all those pieces of information are there for the patient to access, and patients can be a part of managing their own care better.”
The KLAS report on the Apple Health Records initiative found that, among the early adopters, most organizations’ formal plans for it are limited to its most immediate benefit—allowing patients to download their patient records. “This benefit requires relatively little time, effort, or cost from healthcare providers,” the KLAS report stated.
Thompson echoes this perception that integrating with the Apple Health Records app requires very little lift for providers. “The fact that [the IT team] completed the integration in two weeks indicates that it went incredibly smooth. Both Cerner and Apple were engaged with our team and we were able to get that done very quickly,” he says. Currently, Apple’s electronic health record (EHR) vendor partners are Epic, Cerner and athenahealth.
Beyond the Apple health records initiative, BayCare Health System is keenly focused on a patient engagement strategy that “meets patients where they are” by offering information and services through a mobile technology platform. “I think that consumers, in general, including potential patients, are used to interacting with their information in a mobile way, whether it’s their bank, airline or hotel; that’s the mode they are used to dealing with their information,” Thompson says.
He continues, “For those people who really engage in the Apple app, it’s just enabling them to have BayCare as an option in that. We serve a population, particularly in a couple of our counties, that often spend six months here during the winter, and then six months up north somewhere, and this feature gives them access to their medical information at their fingertips. And, if their health system up north does the same thing, then it gives them a full picture of their health as they move north and south.”
BayCare Health Systems’ patient engagement strategy encompasses the patient experience as well, and last fall the health system launched a free mobile wayfinding app, BayCare Compass, to help patients and visitors locate their destination at a hospital. The health system plans to have the app in use at all 15 BayCare hospitals by 2019.
"More and more, BayCare is utilizing apps and technology to deliver services and streamline access for patients and their families. BayCare Compass is another way that we can provide patients and visitors what they need and want—information in the palm of their hand that makes using the hospital easier,” Thompson says.
BayCare has deployed a number of technology-based solutions to enhance care and improve access, including HealthNav, a mobile app to help guide people with non-urgent conditions to medical services; telemonitoring of patients in nursing homes or rehabilitation facilities; eCare, an electronic patient monitoring system to monitor critically ill patients in the hospital intensive care unit (ICU) and BayCare Anywhere, the system’s telemedicine service.
“We have also been pretty focused on telehealth and televisits for a few years now, and not necessarily just for the routine visit; we monitor all of our ICUs remotely, and we do some wound care management with telemedicine as well,” he says.
In January, BayCare Health System announced a collaboration with the grocery store chain Publix to launch Walk-in Care Provided by BayCare. These in-store telehealth centers will be available at 26 Publix Pharmacy locations by the end of the year. The telehealth centers feature an interactive kiosk enabling patients to enter their symptoms and work with medical tools such as thermometers, otoscopes, blood pressure cuffs and high definition cameras to help doctors, available through teleconferencing, to make an accurate diagnosis.
Thompson and his team are also increasingly focused on leveraging the health systems’ enterprise data warehouse (EDW) to advance business intelligence initiatives. “Our focus on that is ensuring that we have accurate data in the warehouse and then enabling users, whether it’s department heads, physicians or nurses, to be able to access that data and drill into it, and then help them to make better decisions, whether that’s around productivity, or that’s around care decisions. We’re focused on putting that power in their hands, instead of the old way of doing things which entails calling IT and getting a report a few weeks later,” he says.
Looking at the Tampa Bay market that BayCare Health System serves, the region is known for attracting “snowbirds,” or retirees who visit southern states like Florida in the winter, and, according to an article in the Tampa Bay Business Journal, citing data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the population in the seven counties in Tampa Bay has gotten older since 2010. Overall, the “65 and older” population in Tampa Bay increased 10.4 percent compared to only 0.79 percent for the “under 18” population. According to Thompson, these demographic trends don’t have a significant impact on the health systems’ enterprise-wide digital strategy.
“I think years ago maybe we thought about technology being more age-specific. Now, we’re seeing people use technology across the board. I was looking at telemedicine stats, and it’s not like we see all the Millennials using telemedicine; we’re seeing telemedicine use across ages,” he says.
Thompson describes the Tampa Bay healthcare market as a “fairly collaborative community. “We tend to interact and know what each other is doing and I think, largely, try to put the patient first. We’re still diverse in some of our technology. I think there is room for opportunity, not just in my market or in Florida, but across the country to have better sharing of information, and it takes us back to our first topic. I think some of the things that Apple is doing is going to help drive things like that,” he says.