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04/13/2021

Cardinal Health (NYSE: CAH) was awarded a $57.8 million contract, including options that if exercised by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) could reach $91.6 million, for the...

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Reimagining health care through innovation

By Shawn McBride, vice president and general manager of WaveMark™ Supply Management and Workflow Solutions

Here at Cardinal Health, we’re nearing the end of our fiscal year. It’s been an exciting year for WaveMark™ – one in which my team focused on making our own contribution to solving critical health care challenges with our technology solutions, including launching our supply automation platform solution made for clinical labs. As I look ahead to next year, our focus will be to bring to market new technology solutions that create successful connections for health care providers, manufacturers and suppliers so that we can better – and more safely – serve patients.

As we headed into planning for next year, to gather inspiration about what greatest needs exist in the healthcare technology space, a few members of my team attended one of the top events of the year for professionals in the health care industry to learn about the latest innovations that are helping all of us to reimagine health and wellness. Known as the HIMSS (Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society) Global Health Conference and Exhibition, the event draws the best-of-the-best in health care IT and technology – those who are leading discussions about how we approach health care amid a digital transformation.

After the conference, I sat down with one of my team members – Lisa Stepps, senior manager, Product Management and Development / Distribution Innovation at WaveMark – to talk more about what she learned about latest trends and how they could shape healthcare supply chain innovation in the future. Here were her three key takeaways:

1. Standards for interoperability need to be a top priority.

Interoperability is the ability for computer systems and software to communicate – to share and use information. For digital transformation in health care to truly work, all stakeholders within the health care system need to trust one another and support better collaboration across functions, Stepps said. “A common language and data fluency drive the ability to develop a more clinically integrated supply chain, where clinicians and supply chain teams work together to support optimal patient care. Data standards (particularly those that help track supplies used in patient care) that provide guidelines for how products are described and recorded from enterprise resource planning (ERP) software to electronic medical records (EMRs), are critical for the accurate connection of product use to patient outcomes.”

In November, I shared my thoughts on this topic in this article. To summarize, we need clean, reliable data that is tracked consistently across all stages of a product’s lifecycle within the hospital – from point of receipt to point of care. At WaveMark, we are fully invested in developing centralized, clinically integrated strategies for our customers that will provide bidirectional access to data and insights previously unavailable. If a provider’s data cannot speak the same language as a distributor’s, supplier’s or manufacturer’s data, we simply will not be successful. (If you are newer to this topic, you might find this MedCity News article helpful. It describes why 2022 will be pivotal for interoperability, explains the progress our industry has made so far and provides guidance about how we can boost momentum. HIMSS also has useful resources here.)

While at the conference, Stepps participated on a panel discussion about demand matching. The identification of the key data elements between manufacturer and provider is foundational to driving the future of demand matching. “Connectivity to the manufacturer can reduce supply chain challenges and provide insights to ensure timely product availability. Significantly, connectivity also can build a more resilient supply chain to help deliver excellence in patient care,” Stepps said.

2. Data sharing and privacy will – and should – continue to dominate industry focus.

Stepps also sat in on a panel called “Improving Transitions of Care with Data Sharing,” featuring Robert Latz, CIO at Trinity Rehab Services and John Campbell, CIO at Partners Continuing Care at Mass General Brigham. These leaders discussed improvements for providers, caregivers and the patient that can be realized with timely data sharing during transitions of care from one setting to another – and talked about how to expand this as a best practice across all of health care. Stepps summarized the panel discussion this way: “Data integration provides a more complete picture of patient care, leading to more efficient care delivery, complete patient documentation to enable better outcomes and optimization of the patient experience. That integration of data also reduces expense and creates greater capacity in the supply chain and for the health system.” How integrated clinical program data enhances decision making, drives process improvement and accelerates solutions to challenges was a hot topic of the conference, Stepps said.

There are clear benefits from data sharing, but the major challenge we will face as an industry is protecting patient privacy. As we continue to innovate solutions that, at their core, are meant to save patient lives or improve patient outcomes, we need to be equally aware of the unintended consequences of greater data exchange. As new technologies are introduced – or, for example, artificial intelligence (AI)-based solutions become more commonplace – federally-led privacy regulations and guidance will need to evolve as quickly as the technology is released.

3. Evolving technology, including the use of AI, is opening up more questions than answers.

Over the past 36 months, U.S. patent applications coded for both machine learning and health care informatics have increased exponentially. “Motivation for AI regulation in healthcare has important and unique characteristics,” Stepps said. “It reduces administrative burdens and improves the ability to deliver care to patients.” The responsible use of AI is something that we all must consider an obligation – no matter where we sit in the health care industry. Stepps noted, “Integration of AI into health care enhances access, driving improved patient experience, improved clinical experiences and improved outcomes.” (A recent Politico article recaps this topic well – highlighting key conversations from a large health tech conference called ViVE, which took place around the same time as HIMSS this year.)

As we look forward to what the next fiscal year will bring for our business, and as our innovation teammates consider the greatest needs in the health care supply chain, one thing is clear – health care needs strong collaboration at all levels to undergo a responsible digital transformation that enables better data sharing while protecting patient privacy.

Shawn McBride is vice president and general manager of WaveMark™ Supply Management and Workflow Solutions. WaveMark connects healthcare providers and manufacturers to create clinically integrated, digitally automated supply chains to help support more effective patient care at the lowest operational cost.  

Editor’s note: McBride recently posted a similar version of this story on LinkedIn.