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3 of the most pressing health care topics of 2021


While we’ve turned our focus to 2021, our entire health care community’s day-to-day is still very much concentrated on combating the global COVID-19 crisis. The pandemic’s devastation will be felt for many years to come, yet it’s expediting important forces that were already underway in shaping our industry. This presents an enormous opportunity to address and implement meaningful, long-term changes to our health care systems.

At Cerner, we see the opportunity of 2021 with numerous stakeholders motivated to make progress on finding concrete solutions to some of health care’s most pressing challenges. While there are many issues to undertake, we believe COVID-19 has particularly accelerated and spotlighted the following topics.

1. Unifying a fragmented health care ecosystem

The rapid development, clinical trial execution and regulatory approval of the COVID-19 vaccine represents one of the most important medical events in the modern era. With around 3,000 lives lost each day to COVID-19 in the U.S. in January, urgent focus is now on delivery and administration of the approved vaccines.

Earlier in the pandemic, the health care industry experienced immense challenges around distribution and management of personal protective equipment (PPE), ventilators and bed capacity. As we move forward with a mass vaccination initiative, we continue to see issues with large-scale coordination across disparate health systems. In the U.S., unifying diverse health systems presents many glaring challenges, such as data sharing across enterprises, state allocations, logistical coordination of production and supply chain management and determining how to best prioritize the most at-risk populations. Continued improvements in standardizing health care IT capabilities should be addressed and are critical to enable a more seamless, coordinated and efficient care delivery system.

Cerner’s work with the joint U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) health information exchange is a great example of how participating community providers now have a single point of entry to request and access DoD and VA electronic health records for use in their treatment of patients.

Our expertise and capabilities in leveraging big data and analytics can be central in addressing many of these logistical burdens that exist on both the enterprise and public health sectors. It will require deploying data analysis in the same vein as was used to predict COVID-19 surges, ventilator supply and ICU bed capacity. Also, key to this effort will be our data monitoring and reporting systems for states and local health departments. Early in the pandemic, Cerner helped clients voluntarily share relevant data to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Health care Safety Network, allowing clients to easily share data on lab results, syndromes, PPE supply and ventilator availability.

2. Making technology, data more effective for better patient-centered care

For many, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted how and where we receive care. While technologies that enable care delivery outside the four walls of clinics and hospitals have existed for years, reimbursement, convenience and resistance to change have limited widespread adoption and use. An immediate catalyst for change was the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ temporary relaxation of telehealth reimbursement restrictions for safer care delivery amid the pandemic. Health care providers immediately responded by quickly adapting and expanding the use of digital tools to engage patients via telehealth and virtual health platforms.

For 40 years, Cerner has worked to connect consumer data and systems to eliminate data gaps and silos. Thanks to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology and their regulatory framework on information blocking, consumers will have more access to data through apps that use FHIR APIs to create longitudinal patient records in the electronic health record (EHR). Access to trusted data with a longitudinal completeness will help reduce the cost of care, increase access and deliver a more relevant and personalized experience.

Collaboration will continue to be critical for more efficient and effective health care that meets patients’ and clinicians’ needs. For instance, Cerner teamed up with Amwell to embed telehealth capabilities into the EHR, allowing us to support clients like Indiana University Health in rapidly scaling their virtual health offerings at the start of the pandemic – increasing patients served via virtual visits by 100 times. Another example is our work with Uber Health, which enables providers to schedule non-emergency transportation services for patients directly within the EHR. In addition, we’re connecting Cerner technology with Amazon Halo wearable devices to allow consumers to easily connect their vital health and well-being information with their broader health care teams.

3. Advancing artificial intelligence for prescriptive and equitable care

We’ve long known that health care, in a broad sense, is behind other industries in deploying extensive use of machine learning and artificial intelligence. The types of algorithms that drive social media and entertainment platforms like Google and Amazon have yet to become commonplace in health care delivery.

To advance this conversation, it’s imperative that one assumption is made as table stakes: Our industry will comply with privacy and security rules that ensure proper use of patient data, and patient authorization, where required, will be obtained. Cerner believes that patients own their data, but with the massive amount of health data that’s generated, we need new algorithmic capabilities that support clinicians with integrated, actionable workflow insights. Fortunately, accomplishing this can be done with large anonymized datasets. This strategy is endorsed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration using real-world data to produce accelerated real-world evidence for better clinical and financial outcomes.

Cerner is relentlessly focused on employing data science and leveraging intelligence to enable value-based care delivery. Recognizing the importance of research design and peer reviewed evidence, we have created the Cerner Learning Health Network, which is currently comprised of 55+ U.S. health systems dedicated to sharing de-identified data to advance clinical research. The immediate value of this network was recognized in April 2020 when Cerner was able to quickly aggregate a COVID-19 dataset of 145,000 anonymized records for research.

Through our AWS collaboration, clients like Oklahoma State University and University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center were able to leverage AI tools at scale to rapidly advance their understanding of health variables, including social determinants of health, that may impact risk of COVID-19 symptoms. Over the last year, we’ve made strategic investments and established new partnerships in this area with the goal of transforming the speed and cost of producing real-world evidence.

While this list centers around three key areas for health care in 2021, I’d be remiss if I did not mention another important concern that should remain central to our list of priorities in the months (and years) to come, especially after the unprecedented year that we all endured.

Addressing the growing mental health epidemic

After a tumultuous year – in which we waded through pandemic-fueled political, social and economic disruption – we must think about how to use advances in health care to address the growing mental health crisis that’s affecting so many. Opioid abuse and opioid use disorder are well documented. Yet, much of America continues to struggle with depression and anxiety disorders that impact their wellness and exacerbate the challenges of managing chronic health conditions. In addition, alcohol abuse endures and homelessness is reaching a crisis level in many of our communities.

Expanding our knowledge of the social determinants of health and putting strong networks of community support in place will be vitally important to better serve patients around mental health and wellness as we continue to battle this pandemic. The Cerner HealtheIntent® platform helps health systems like Geisinger and Roper St. Francis Health care provide community-based holistic, prescriptive care. Reducing costs and improving clinical outcomes can only be achieved when clinicians and health system leaders have a comprehensive understanding of patient needs and gaps in care and can quickly access relevant data to actively manage risk.

Reflecting on 2020, I’m reminded that adversity can reveal our strengths and help us embrace change. At Cerner, this is certainly how we’re approaching 2021. We’re focused on our clients’ success and helping communities fight and recover, while continually pursuing innovations to create a better, more seamless and connected world where everyone thrives.

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