Ask the Expert: How Does Technology Use Differ in Acute vs. Non-Acute Healthcare Settings?

Care strategies, clinical workflows and administrative processes can vary greatly, so it’s safe to assume technology utilization should too…right?

A doctor and nurse speak with patients int he lobby of an ambulatory surgery center.
by Dave Stewart
August 29, 2019

We talk a lot about healthcare here on Your Edge. In the last few months, our blog posts have covered everything from clinical mobility and patient identification to issues that impact the supply chain, such as the Falsified Medicines Directive.

We’ve also spoken often about technology utilization, sharing Stories from the Edge and analyzing the pros and cons of certain technologies – including clinical smartphones, tablets, printers and Internet of Things (IoT). In the process, we’ve assessed how various tech and non-tech (i.e. wristband) solutions can help you – as healthcare practitioners and administrators – meet your goals, whether trying to improve patient care and safety, asset management, medical device track and trace or something else.

However, if you’ve been following these healthcare discussions, you’ve probably noticed that they are often focused on the challenges and opportunities of acute care settings. In fact, you may be wondering why we have yet to look at some of these same issues from a non-acute care lens.

To be honest, we were waiting for our non-acute healthcare team to get back from the Ambulatory Surgery Center Association’s (ACSA) 2019 Conference. We figured they would have some great insights to share on the unique challenges facing non-acute care providers. And they did.

So, without further ado, let us introduce you to Dave Stewart. He recently sat down with us to talk about the differences between acute and non-acute care and how technology use cases can be both similar and different at the same time.

Your Edge Blog Team: Dave, thank you so much for being the first to chat with us about non-acute healthcare. As a company, Zebra focuses quite a bit on healthcare from an acute perspective. So, can you help us understand how Zebra defines acute versus non-acute healthcare?

Dave:  We like to classify non-acute care as any care provided outside the four walls of a hospital or other emergency care facility, such as a standalone emergency room. Some of the customers we work with in the non-acute environment include urgent care centers, physician’s offices/clinics and, of course, ambulatory surgery centers that exclusively provide outpatient surgical services, such as same-day surgeries that don’t require overnight hospitalization. We also work closely with long-term care facilities and nursing homes as well as other post-acute providers.

Your Edge Blog Team: Do you find that acute and non-acute settings share similar challenges?

Dave: When it comes to compliance, patient safety and quality of care, I would say yes. All healthcare providers follow the lead of authority bodies on a local, regional or even global scale, regardless of the type of care they offer. For example, both acute and non-acute care providers in the U.S. look to accreditation organizations such as the Joint Commission to establish patient care and safety guidelines. In the UK, that body is the National Health Service. Of course, regulations and directives enacted by governments may vary by region, country or even state. But they usually apply to acute and non-acute settings. For example, the Falsified Medicines Directive in the UK impacts global pharmaceutical supply chains serving acute and non-acute facilities. And medical device tracking requirements set forth by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or other similar organizations apply to any medical provider that handles such devices, whether during transport, surgery or other patient care scenarios.

However, non-acute providers can range from single physician practices that were just established to long-term care networks that may have different business systems in use at each of their facilities.

This means compliance alone requires a significant financial investment, whether from a staffing or systems perspective. As a result, other areas that could benefit from a new/better technology solution – such as patient records management – sometimes become de-prioritized as uncontrollable expense sources – such as pharmaceutical or medical device tracking – begin to compound.

Your Edge Blog Team: So, is that where you would say acute and non-acute care challenges differ? In resource availability or administrative priorities?

Dave: Yes, that is certainly a difference in many cases. Both acute and non-acute providers are focused on lowering operational costs, just like any organization in any sector. And they are both committed to enhancing quality of care. However, ambulatory surgery centers – which are held to the same compliance and quality standards as hospitals – traditionally receive lower insurance reimbursements for the same procedures performed at hospitals. And that’s just one example of the financial challenges that non-acute facilities face compared to their acute counterparts. Needless to say, non-acute providers are well-incentivized to leverage technology as much as possible to cut both administrative and patient care costs.

Your Edge Blog Team: Are they leveraging technology in the same capacity as acute care providers?

Dave: Based on what my colleagues and I heard at ASCA 2019, I would say no. In fact, many long-term and post-acute providers are still using manual, paper-based processes to manage patient records, inventory and more. Remember, cost reductions are a priority, so spending is often conservative. If something’s working, why change it, right? Especially when money is tight. Plus, non-acute/post-acute providers are currently immune from some of the track-and-trace and patient safety regulations enforced in acute settings that mandate electronic records, so the urgency to digitalize data and workflows isn’t quite there in many cases.

But there are pitfalls to manual processes – financial pitfalls – and some non-acute providers admitted at the ASCA conference that they need to start to adopt technology more aggressively. Data entry errors, communication delays, back-end system silos and the inability to quickly track and trace pharmaceuticals, medical supplies, equipment and even patients can cost them a lot; arguably, more than it would cost to implement better technology systems and new mobile device-driven workflows.

However, you must remember that a large number of ambulatory surgery centers, long-term care facilities, etc. are privately owned, and they are not part of an acute care healthcare system. In fact, 65 percent of ambulatory surgery centers are fully owned by physicians. Therefore, they may not be aware of the enhancements made in acute care facilities or realize the potential return on investment (ROI). Or, it’s possible their initial cost-benefit analysis for certain technologies may be skewed for several reasons, especially if they were doing market research online only, on their own.

This just demonstrates how important it is to pick up the phone and talk to a technology solution provider who understands non-acute care settings and thinks about technology holistically. Find a technology partner who spends the first conversation (or five) really trying to understand your challenges and goals and assess your technology needs on the broader scale.

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Editor’s Note: Tune back into Your Edge next week to read the rest of our interview with Dave. He’ll talk about some of the common technology mistakes he sees in non-acute settings and share his thoughts on which technology solutions can deliver the greatest ROI for non-acute providers today.

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Dave Stewart
Dave Stewart is a Healthcare Alliance Manager for Zebra. He has over 15 years of experience in the Healthcare sector and extensive knowledge of the trends and growth occurring within the non-acute market specifically.























































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