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Shannex Adopts Automation to Revolutionize its Employee Experience

Healthcare | Enterprise Automation | Healthtech | RPA

Shannex Adopts Automation to Revolutionize its Employee Experience

November 7, 2023
Shannex building

Engagement Summary

Shannex  is a leading provider of seniors’ care, service and accommodation across its 47 long-term care and retirement living communities in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Ontario.

People are at the core of Shannex’s mission, vision, and values to lead the way to better living for individuals and the communities the company serves.

Like many health care organizations in Canada, Shannex is experiencing an increased demand for health care workers and needed a solution to improve operational effectiveness to bring more employees on board in a more timely and efficient manner.

The employee onboarding process involves multiple departments and is prone to delays, manual errors, and access management challenges. These gaps did not allow new employees timely access to software tools, equipment, and EHR systems. The offboarding workflow, when an employee left or changed roles, also had similar challenges.

Shannex has partnered with Blanc Labs to develop a workflow that leverages Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to improve coordination of task between departments, track onboarding activities and timelines, and manage employee access to new employees or when their role changes.

By partnering with Blanc Labs to map the enterprise workflow across people, processes and technology systems, Shannex expects to see a significant improvement in efficiency and user experience while maintaining system security, leading to higher staff satisfaction and retention rates.

This innovative partnership is being supported by the Coordinated Accessible National (CAN) Health Network – a federally funded organization working to introduce more Canadian technology companies into Canada’s health care system.

Current State Challenges

Shannex’s onboarding workflows presented an opportunity for improvement from both an employee experience and operational efficiency perspective. Manual processing of tasks and multiple stakeholders involved created a high-volume workflow characterized by delays, errors, and information-security risks.

Healthcare
Healthcare
Healthcare
>30%
employees had access to all the IT systems equipment they needed on their first day of work.
34%
of new employees experienced delays of more than a week in obtaining all the equipment and system access they needed.
18%
of new hires were less than satisfied with the technology access portion of their onboarding experience.

Tech Stack

UiPath Studio
UiPath Orchestrator
UiPath Robot

Expected Impact

Blanc Labs’ RPA-based workflows will reduce demands on operational, HR, IT, and business system teams by automating employee management tasks. This will free up time for business users to focus on higher-value work. Improved accuracy will ensure new employees have the necessary system and equipment access and will lead to higher staff satisfaction and better retention rates.  

Our shared goal is to improve efficiency and user experience relating to employee management tasks.

Banking Transformation Done Right
Your Healthcare Interoperability Partner
woman working
Team working
80%
Reduction in the time required for operations managers to request access to equipment/systems for new hires.
90%
Increase in the level of satisfaction among new hires with the onboarding process.
80%
Reduction in the time spent removing access to systems and equipment for terminations.
60%
Increase in the proportion of new hires with access to systems equipment on their first day in the new position.

Looking Ahead

Through a strategic partnership with Blanc Labs and the CAN Health Network, Shannex is poised to revolutionize its employee onboarding and system access procedures. By integrating technologies like UiPath Apps, UiPath Robot, and UiPath Studio, Blanc Labs has delivered an impactful synergy of automation, innovation, and convenience to Shannex’s employee experience, HR , IT management, and Operations functions.

If you are interested in automating your workflows and improving employee experience, reach out to us at BlancLabs.com and let us explore how we could partner with one another. Contact us today to unlock efficiencies in your processes.

Elevate employee experience: automate, secure, and thrive.

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Shannex Announces Partnership with Canadian-based Blanc Labs to Improve Employee Experience and Resident Care

Healthcare | Healthcare | Healthtech | RPA

Shannex Announces Partnership with Canadian-based Blanc Labs to Improve Employee Experience and Resident Care

November 7, 2023
Shannex x BL x Can Health

November 7, 2023 (Halifax, NS) – Through its membership with the Coordinated Accessible National (CAN) Health Network, Shannex, a family owned and operated organization providing seniors’ care, service and accommodation, is partnering with Canadian health care technology company, Blanc Labs, to deploy automated processes to improve employee transitions and reduce demands on operational, human resources, information technology, and business system teams. Shannex will work with Blanc Labs to deploy this solution across its 47 long term care and retirement living communities in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Ontario.

Similar to many health care organizations in Canada, Shannex is experiencing an increased demand for health care workers and was in need of a solution to improve operational effectiveness to bring more employees on board in a more timely and efficient manner.

“Our team members are focused on providing care and service to residents in our communities and we’re always looking to find ways to improve the quality of our work,” said Greg Heard, Vice President, Innovation and Technology. “We are pleased to partner with Blanc Labs to deploy process automations that will improve operational efficiency, improve oversight and increase system security for employees, enabling them to have more time to spend with each resident.”

Blanc Labs’ automated solution will support an improved employee experience by helping to coordinate tasks between departments, track onboarding and offboarding activities and timelines, and manage access to necessary equipment and technology for new and existing employees.

“At Blanc Labs, we see a tremendous opportunity to improve employee experiences in health care through innovative uses of technology. It has been an absolute pleasure collaborating with the Shannex team to develop and implement a more efficient, secure and scalable approach to employee onboarding and management. We are excited about our continued partnership with Shannex and other health care organizations, focusing on delivering positive outcomes for stakeholders across the Canadian health care ecosystem,” said Rishi Khanna, Vice President, Engineering, Blanc Labs.

The project is being supported by the CAN Health Network – a federally funded national organization working to introduce more Canadian innovation into Canada’s health care system.

“The CAN Health Network is proud to support this important collaboration between Shannex and Blanc Labs. We look forward to seeing the results of the project, and the impact Blanc Labs’ solution has on patients, residents and staff across the country,” said Dr. Dante Morra, Chair, CAN Health Network.

“This announcement is great news for seniors in care and the dedicated people who work so hard to bring them the services they need,” said the Honourable Rechie Valdez, Minister of Small Business. “This partnership between Shannex and Blanc Labs is a great example of how the CAN Health Network is creating innovative solutions to strengthen our health care system while helping companies grow and create good jobs.”

-30- 

ABOUT SHANNEX

Shannex is a family owned and operated organization with a vision of Leading the Way to Better Living by providing seniors’ care, service and accommodation. Beginning in 1988 with a single nursing home, we now offer a full continuum of services for seniors through our Care at Home, Parkland Retirement Living, Faubourg du Mascaret and Shannex licensed long term care communities. Currently, we have communities in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Ontario, where approximately 5,900 employees provide care and service to more than 5,200 residents. For more information, visit www.shannex.com

 

ABOUT BLANC LABS

Blanc Labs works with organizations to deliver technology solutions that yield impactful outcomes for businesses, their customers and employees. As a UI Path implementation partner, Blanc Labs are experts at identifying and applying process improvement and using automation technologies to streamline workflows, reduce operational overhead, and scale efficiently. Headquartered in Toronto, Ontario, Blanc Labs serves clients across the Americas through operations in Toronto, New York, Bogota, and Buenos Aires. For more information, visit www.blanclabs.com

 

ABOUT THE CAN HEALTH NETWORK

The CAN Health Network is a Canada-first approach to technology adoption. It helps break down barriers to scaling in the health care system and provides an environment for companies to scale to their full potential. Currently operating in Ontario, Western and Atlantic Canada, the CAN Health Network was recently awarded $30 million by the Government of Canada as part of Budget 2022 to expand into Quebec, the Territories and with Indigenous Communities. To learn more about the CAN Health Network, visit www.canhealthnetwork.ca

 

For media inquiries, please contact: 

 Isabelle Landry 

Senior Communications Manager 

Shannex Inc. 

E: ilandry@shannex.com  

C: 506-863-9570 

 

Natasha Zelinski 

Communications Advisor 

CAN Health Network 

E: Natasha.zelinski@thp.ca  

C: 647-984-7089 

 

Shriya Ghate 

Senior Marketing Manager 

Blanc Labs 

E: shriyag@blanclabs.com 

C: 647-676-3593 

Shannex Adopts Automation to Revolutionize its Employee Experience

Low-Code Tools and Automation Power Minor Ailments Program for Pharmacists

Healthcare | Enterprise Automation | Low Code Platforms

Low-Code Tools and Automation Power Minor Ailments Program for Pharmacists

November 3, 2023

Blanc Labs teamed up with Daylight Automation (acquired by Quadient) to enable the Minor Ailments service at a major Canadian pharmacy.  The team designed and deployed digital forms, automated workflows, and integrated with enterprise systems to power how pharmacists assess and treat 15 minor ailments at pharmacies across the country. This comes  at a critical inflection point for Canadians needing efficient access to healthcare services.

The client knew having pharmacists fill out a paper-form for each patient would not scale across their network and would create massive headaches for data integration, workflow management, payments & billing, and information security.

With Blanc Labs support, the Pharmacy rolled out a digital workflow solution that offers patients and pharmacists a much improved experience that eliminates extra steps, ensuring accurate and timely assessments, and treatment of minor ailments.

After 6-months of Minor Ailments Service in Ontario

244,630

Assessments Completed

250,150

Prescriptions for Minor Ailments

Benefits of our Solution Approach

Integrated Solution
Streamlined Data Collection
Improved Data Quality & Security
Superior Customer and Employee Experience
Real-Time Updates

Impact

How Blanc Labs transformed for Reliq Health Technologies
85%
Of All Community Pharmacies are Prescribing for Minor Ailments
8
Provinces Currently Allow Pharmacists to Prescribe for Minor Ailments
$42M +
Savings to Ontario with Pharmacists Treating for 3 Minor Ailments

A Transformative Approach to Primary Care

Given that pharmacists are the most accessible health care professionals, I think minor ailments prescribing will lead to an improved pharmacist-patient relationship and a more fulfilling professional career. As medication experts, pharmacists are trained and equipped with the knowledge to practice beyond classic dispensing activities.

Providing clinical services, which allow pharmacists to use their entire range of training, is the future of pharmacy.

When it comes to minor ailments prescribing, passionate pharmacists will be invaluable and I’m hopeful that a shift will occur where these types of services become the norm1.

Timothy Brady, Chair of Ontario Pharmacists Association

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We developed an advanced healthcare interoperability application using GenAI and FHIR
Case Studies

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We developed an advanced healthcare interoperability application using GenAI and FHIR

We developed an advanced healthcare interoperability application using GenAI and FHIR

Blanc Labs has spent the last five years working with healthcare companies like Reliq Health Technologies and Shannex as well as partners like Smile Digital Health and AWS, on building healthcare interoperability platforms and technologies on the latest standards such as FHIR and HL7.

Given the excitement around Generative AI and Large Language Models (LLMs) and their potential to transform entire swaths of how we build and interact with technology, our healthcare team wanted to experiment with combining Gen AI tools with an FHIR standard to see if we could leverage it for a practical healthcare scenario.

As a result, our team developed a proof of concept that is meant to showcase the power of conversational AI tools to query an interoperable database of medical information.

For this PoC, we used OpenAI to query Health Samurai‘s FHIR platform, Aidbox.

 

 

Blanc Labs has spent the last five years working with healthcare companies like Reliq Health Technologies and Shannex as well as partners like Smile Digital Health and AWS, on building healthcare interoperability platforms and technologies on the latest standards such as FHIR and HL7.

Given the excitement around Generative AI and Large Language Models (LLMs) and their potential to transform entire swaths of how we build and interact with technology, our healthcare team wanted to experiment with combining Gen AI tools with an FHIR standard to see if we could leverage it for a practical healthcare scenario.

As a result, our team developed a proof of concept that is meant to showcase the power of conversational AI tools to query an interoperable database of medical information.

For this PoC, we used OpenAI to query Health Samurai‘s FHIR platform, Aidbox.

 

 

Why we did it

In our opinion, providing a conversational UI/UX to the end user will dramatically enhance the healthcare practitioner’s ability to access and act upon patient data on-demand instead of being limited by traditional web UI/UX.

The goal of building this prototype is to evaluate the strengths and weakness of Generative AI technologies to convert natural language instructions to corresponding FHIR API calls.

Digital health adoption
How Blanc Labs transformed for Reliq Health Technologies
82%
of clinicians say that they do not always have a summary of the care their patients received outside of their practice settingÂą
40 mins
is the additional time spent by clinicians per day searching for patient information from settings other than their clinical practice²

Source 1 and 2: Canada Health Infoway – Pan Canadian Interoperability Roadmap

Solution Approach Overview

We built a prototype that allows healthcare practitioners to access any arbitrary patient data simply by asking questions in natural language.

To develop this prototype, we leveraged OpenAI’s GPT3.5 APIs as the foundational LLM to convert natural language to a FHIR query that would be run on Health Samurai’s Aidbox FHIR platform. We fine-tuned the standard GPT3.5 LLM model using prompt-engineering techniques to better understand healthcare-based user instructions and matched it with corresponding standard FHIR APIs to retrieve the required data. The model was also fine-tuned to output the data in a non-technical, natural language format.

While it is built on Health Samurai’s Aidbox with OpenAI APIs, this application can be customized for other FHIR providers and other Gen AI APIs without making major changes to the fundamentals to the application.

Examples of questions we can ask the AI–Powered Knowledge Assistant

What is the number of patients in the system?

  1. Give me information about patient number XX*.
  2. What’s the name of patient number XXZ?
  3. Tell me about the last medical record of patient number YYT.
  4. I want to know about the conditions that patient number XYZ is presenting.

*In a real-life scenario, XX would be replaced with the patient ID

Denis Zavylov Health Samurai
Denis Zavylov Health Samurai
Denis Zavyalov
Product Manager, Health Samurai

Blanc Labs has developed an innovative Proof of Concept that leverages Generative AI and our FHIR platform, Aidbox, to enable natural language access to patient data through FHIR APIs. We believe this could have
mainstream application around healthcare data accessibility leading to enhanced patient care.

Gen AI on 🔥 Techstack

What’s next?

Our intention is to enhance the demo to support more complex queries involving more than one FHIR API call as well as supporting richer output formats like charts & tables.

We’d also like to hear from the FHIR community on their thoughts about how to take this to the next level. Please participate in the brief questionnaire below to provide you input and feedback.

What did you think of this initiative? Give us your feedback in the form below.

 

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Start your Digital Transformation

How Reliq Health Built their Remote Patient Monitoring Platform Around FHIR

Case Studies

How Reliq Health Built their Remote Patient Monitoring Platform Around FHIR

How Blanc Labs transformed for Reliq Health Technologies

With the advent of cloud and better technologies, more organizations are moving to Software-as-service (SAAS) models to simplify their delivery process. As we get access to better tools and technology, it is less complex to achieve this delivery model. In this whitepaper, we will walk through the key architectural elements/design of deploying a Clinical Data Repository (FHIR repository) on the cloud in a multi-tenant format. We will look at how to isolate tenants within an EKS cluster, automate Tenant onboarding, and support routing of Tenant workloads. While Blanc Labs used AWS EKS (Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service) for this model, it is important to note that the same principle can be applied to any Kubernetes cluster.

The piece is intended for IT architects, developers and DevOps, who have practical experience architecting in the AWS Cloud with EKS/Kubernetes.

A major Canadian healthtech company that focuses on remote patient monitoring using innovative technology, was looking for the right partner to help them build a web-based SaaS application that could capture patient monitoring data via IoT devices and manual entries and store that data in a cloud based clinical repository. Blanc Labs was able to implement this solution with the Smile Digital Health clinical data repository on AWS HIPA compliant cloud infrastructure.

The result of our solution, detailed below, led to increased adaptability to interoperability standards, as well as an increase in market reach and sales.

Challenges Around Switching to an FHIR Compliant Clinical Repository

Installation

Installation of any FHIR repository itself is not a big challenge, and in most cases, FHIR repository vendors provide detailed documentation on how to install the repository. However, the complexities begin when there is customization required based on your multitenancy need. Do you want to install one repository for all your tenants, or should each Tenant have its own repository? Another important consideration is if the vendor is charging for repository installation and does the FHIR Repository support multi-tenancy by default.

Multi-tenancy

Multi-tenancy brings another level of complexity to the overall architecture. How can you onboard new tenants quickly? Does your cloud provider support multi- tenancy? Will each Tenant have its own cloud service or can it be shared in a secure way to reduce the overall cost of installation, operation, and maintenance?

Upgrade

Data repository vendors keep releasing new versions of the repository. It is important to keep upgrading your FHIR repository. This can be challenging if you don’t keep your FHIR repository up to date and decide to upgrade many years later.

Scalability

Some scalability issues have been solved by Kubernetes but replicating the infrastructure in a different geographical region continues to be the most challenging task. It is also important in the healthcare domain because some countries have different jurisdiction requirements on where to keep the clinical data. In this scenario, we must replicate the same infrastructure in the same geographical locations.

Building Multi-Tenancy Architecture

To systematically tackle the above-mentioned challenges, we can take a three- step approach:

  1. Tenant Isolation Model
  2. Routing traffic to tenants
  3. Onboarding new tenants through automation

Tenant Isolation Model

There are multiple ways to solve multi-tenancy issues, each with its own pros & cons.Âą

In the world of AWS EKS (Kubernetes) Tenant per namespace is a good blend of isolation and cost-efficiency. Tenant Isolation can be easily achieved through Network Policies. You can configure a Network Policy to allow traffic coming from a specific namespace only and deny all others.

The question arises, how will you place your FHIR repository? You have two options here:

  1. Deploy individual FHIR repositories for each Tenant
  2. Share the FHIR repository among all Tenants

This decision will be based on which FHIR Repository you choose and the cost efficiency you are aiming for.

Individual FHIR Repository for each Tenant

This approach gives you complete data isolation protection but comes with high operational costs. When using AWS, you end up with multiple DB instances for each FHIR repository if you decided to go with RDS (Amazon Relational Database). Along with Database and cloud services costs, there are other things you need to consider when choosing this approach. For example, how easy is installing the FHIR repository through automation scripts? Or, how much time will it take for each installation? Remember, our goal is to onboard a new Tenant quickly and automatically.

Shared FHIR Repository

Some clinical data repositories do provide multi-tenancy support but it’s important to look at it from an end-to-end context: how data will flow into the clinical repository, implications for data security, and other wrapper services or systems that will interact with clinical data.

If your FHIR repository supports multi-tenancy, then you can deploy on a shared name namespace and Tenant-specific services (wrapper services) will interact directly. In this approach, any traffic must come from Tenant wrapper services only. No direct external traffic is allowed to go to the shared repository.
The benefit of this approach is that when you bring in a new Tenant, you don’t need to install the FHIR repository from scratch. All you need is to deploy wrapper services for the new Tenant, which is comparatively easy using automation scripts.

 

Tenant isolation is not the only problem to solve in this architecture. How to route Traffic to tenants is another important question.

Routing Traffic to Tenants

The architecture diagram above illustrates how to route internet traffic to your pods. There are two approaches for routing traffic:

Routing Traffic Using Traefik Controller

Traefik is a cloud-native scalable ingress proxy. It can be used as a single point of entry to the cluster and it forwards the traffic to the corresponding backends. Here we can split the traffic based on subdomains, paths, headers and apply “middlewares” for transforming the incoming requests.

Routing Traffic Using AWS Load Balancer on EKS

AWS Load balancer is also an ingress controller. It creates corresponding AWS resources like AWS Application load balancer when you deploy this controller on your EKS cluster.²

Onboarding New Tenants Through Automation

To onboard a new Tenant successfully, you need a bunch of configuration/ resources up and running in the cloud and on your EKS cluster. Creating those configurations/resources manually takes a lot of time, and it’s nearly impossible if your sales team brings new tenants to the platform daily. Also, it adds risk to the production system, where you change configurations daily.

Hence, without automation, the effort of building the entire SAAS platform is lost.

Automation must be done in two layers:

  1. Infrastructure
  2. EKS/Kubernetes (on-boarding new tenants)

Infrastructure

The infrastructure-as-a-code concept is a lifesaver in this layer of automation. All large cloud providers support popular third-party platforms like Terraform, Ansible, chef, etc., to manage automated infrastructure. You can also achieve the same flexibility using native cloud solutions like AWS Cloud-formation or Azure Resource Manager.

Once you have scripts ready, you can easily replicate the infrastructure in different geographical locations whenever it is required. This layer helps you to achieve some degree of scalability.

In this layer, you end up creating cloud resources like VPCs, subnets, security groups, EKS, and other supporting resources like S3 (Storage), RDS, etc. Also, you need to set up some base resources on your EKS cluster like Istio, networking logging, and monitoring resources.

EKS / Kubernetes (On-boarding New Tenants)

Onboarding new tenants through a frictionless process is the key component of a multi-tenancy offering. The absence of this component defeats the purpose of SAAS offering if onboarding a Tenant takes a long time.
This process is a composite of multiple moving parts. Orchestration of these moving parts is required to get the Tenant up and running quickly. Through automation, we can achieve a low-friction process.

We can automate multiple subprocesses like creating new namespaces, configuring the Tenant Role & policies, and using Terraform, AWS CLI, and Bash Scripts. Each Tenant must access only those resources to which the Tenant is entitled. Cognito User pool, S3 buckets, SQS, DB schemas, and FHIR repository are a few examples.

Also, along with creating the above resources, scripts have to deploy wrapper & other supporting services if required.

These automation scripts give you the flexibility to build a Tenant Management app where the Tenant or Sales Team can onboard a new Tenant at the click of a button.

Key Learnings and Conclusion

At Blanc Labs we were successfully able to architect & deliver a Multi-Tenant SaaS solution to our healthcare client using the design provided in this whitepaper.

The biggest challenge we encountered in the process was the development of automation scripts whose complexity could increase considerably if not designed in the right fashion. We were able to modularize and document the scripts in a way that is easy to maintain for further enhancements. Automation scripts can also be configured in client’s CI/CD pipelines. This will allow clients to deploy new tenants and create secure & high available infrastructure with a click of a button.

Approach

Everything We Make Starts With People

http://David%20Liu

As a new immigrant to Canada, fitting into the working culture was a concern. But the trust and support from managers and colleagues erased those worries. I’ve had the privilege of establishing a new practice and managing projects.

David Liu
CoE Lead
http://Pooja_Bhandarkar

I feel at home at Blanc Labs. Here, I am encouraged to learn, grow, and pursue new levels of excellence every day. The leadership has been instrumental as they have nurtured me to rise to new heights and for that, I am grateful.

Pooja Bhandarkar
Software Engineer
http://Douglas_Palacios

The culture at Blanc Labs is built on respect, empowerment and teamwork. It is a great place to grow. You need to be a constant learner and a real team player to succeed. It’s always about helping each other to get the best possible result, not about who’s getting the credit. 

Douglas Palacios
Staff Software Architect

Blanc Labs has been so empowering for me: the learning, the certifications, the opportunity to work with clients, the teamwork – my work family, really.

Nadia Bastidas
Sr Software Developer
http://David%20Liu

As a new immigrant to Canada, fitting into the working culture was a concern. But the trust and support from managers and colleagues erased those worries. I’ve had the privilege of establishing a new practice and managing projects.

David Liu
CoE Lead
http://Pooja_Bhandarkar

I feel at home at Blanc Labs. Here, I am encouraged to learn, grow, and pursue new levels of excellence every day. The leadership has been instrumental as they have nurtured me to rise to new heights and for that, I am grateful.

Pooja Bhandarkar
Software Engineer
http://Douglas_Palacios

The culture at Blanc Labs is built on respect, empowerment and teamwork. It is a great place to grow. You need to be a constant learner and a real team player to succeed. It’s always about helping each other to get the best possible result, not about who’s getting the credit. 

Douglas Palacios
Staff Software Architect

Blanc Labs has been so empowering for me: the learning, the certifications, the opportunity to work with clients, the teamwork – my work family, really.

Nadia Bastidas
Sr Software Developer
http://David%20Liu

As a new immigrant to Canada, fitting into the working culture was a concern. But the trust and support from managers and colleagues erased those worries. I’ve had the privilege of establishing a new practice and managing projects.

David Liu
CoE Lead
http://Pooja_Bhandarkar

I feel at home at Blanc Labs. Here, I am encouraged to learn, grow, and pursue new levels of excellence every day. The leadership has been instrumental as they have nurtured me to rise to new heights and for that, I am grateful.

Pooja Bhandarkar
Software Engineer
http://Douglas_Palacios

The culture at Blanc Labs is built on respect, empowerment and teamwork. It is a great place to grow. You need to be a constant learner and a real team player to succeed. It’s always about helping each other to get the best possible result, not about who’s getting the credit. 

Douglas Palacios
Staff Software Architect

Blanc Labs has been so empowering for me: the learning, the certifications, the opportunity to work with clients, the teamwork – my work family, really.

Nadia Bastidas
Sr Software Developer

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Healthcare
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Healthcare Interoperability: Challenges and Benefits

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Navigating the Healthcare Interoperability Journey

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Learn More
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Interoperability
Articles

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Learn More
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IT Management
Articles

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Articles

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Healthcare Interoperability: Challenges and Benefits

Healthcare | FHIR | Interoperability | IT Management

Healthcare Interoperability: Challenges and Benefits

May 26, 2023
Interoperability

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 provided hospitals and health professionals incentives to use electronic health record technology. Healthcare organizations quickly moved healthcare records to digital applications, providing an opportunity to use this data cohesively through healthcare interoperability.

ARRA has been the driving force behind the digitization of healthcare records in the recent past. The problem? Software vendors developed various applications for the healthcare industry. The result was data silos stored in disparate systems.

Healthcare interoperability is a step towards developing a digital ecosystem for the healthcare industry, where data can be exchanged and accessed securely without  boundaries.

What is Healthcare Interoperability?

Interoperability removes the barriers in information exchange introduced by differences in technology, architecture, and vendors.

Seamless access to healthcare data is critical. The inability to access healthcare records during an emergency can result in adverse outcomes.

Moreover, information blocking can result in penalties of up to $1 million per violation.

Keeping health data secure is just as important as the ability to share it. That’s why healthcare interoperability requires a careful approach. The combined use of APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) and information standards like FHIR and HL7 can help healthcare companies make the best use of electronic records while ensuring data integrity.

Healthcare interoperability allows clinicians to provide better care and coordinate with other clinicians. It provides clinicians and other healthcare providers with a standardized way to collect and report public health data.

Collectively, these factors can improve patient outcomes and safety, minimize the risk of error, and increase the efficiency of internal processes.

Levels of Healthcare Interoperability

The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) has defined four levels of healthcare interoperability. Each level represents a type of data exchange.

Foundational Interoperability

Foundational interoperability (or simple transport) is the most basic type of interoperability. A system transfers data to another system without interpreting or changing its format.

For example, you download a patient’s public health record and manually enter those details into your proprietary software.

Structural Interoperability

Structural interoperability (or structured transport) involves interpretation. Systems exchange data and, when needed, convert it to a standardized format for interpretation.

The information uses a standard syntax and organization, so it’s easier for the receiving system to detect and interpret specific fields.

FHIR and HL7 provide structural interoperability, allowing you to move information across systems seamlessly.

Semantic Interoperability

Exchanging and interpreting data with entirely different data structures requires semantic interoperability (or semantic transport).

Suppose you receive a scanned image of a patient’s medical report. The information in this image must be converted into text fields before it can be imported into your system.

Extracting the information from one system, structuring it so that another system understands the extracted information, and automatically filling out the right data in the right fields requires artificial intelligence (AI).

A combination of technologies like optical character recognition (OCR), robotic process automation (RPA), and AI can help achieve full semantic interoperability like so:

  • OCR extracts the information from the image: The information in the patient’s report like their name and blood group is extracted.
  • AI-based technologies like NLP and machine learning (ML) help interpret the extracted information: The information may not always be in a standard format. For example, the numbers in your blood report may be written as 10^9 or 109. NLP will help the system understand that both of these mean the same thing.
  • RPA populates the relevant data in the recipient system: Once the system interprets this information, RPA automatically adds this information to the recipient system.

Organizational Interoperability

Organizational interoperability is the highest level of interoperability.

It facilitates sharing and interpreting healthcare data securely, seamlessly, and in a timely fashion between organizations, entities, and individuals, with governance, policy, social, legal, and organizational considerations factored in.

Organizational interoperability is the goal. But most healthcare companies are still working on achieving foundational and structural interoperability.

Once organizations have achieved lower levels of interoperability, they’ll have a strong foundation for achieving organizational interoperability and other ways to improve health data exchange.

Navigating the journey from foundational to organizational interoperability is fraught with challenges, but these can be overcome with careful planning and strategizing. Read more here.

What is FHIR?

Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) is a healthcare data standards framework developed by HL7 (Health Level 7). The FHIR provides a standard framework to make transferring healthcare data between systems easier.

FHIR consists of resources like health data formats and elements (such as conditions and medications) that you can exchange easily. It also provides standardization for APIs.

Modern healthcare benefits from FHIR in multiple ways. It facilitates exchanging information with legacy applications, but that’s not the only reason to use FHIR.

The Blue Button 2.0 API, which allows accessing healthcare information, is based on FHIR. The FHIR standards framework is a key component of the United States’ national interoperability roadmap.

If your healthcare business receives payments for Medicare or Medicaid, using FHIR for interoperability is critical.

Data from an Engineer Group survey commissioned by Change Healthcare suggests that only 24% of healthcare companies were using FHIR APIs at scale in 2021. However, the research suggests widespread adoption by 2024.

As more healthcare providers start using FHIR APIs, they’ll be able to use and provide patients with a richer set of functionalities.

4 Challenges with Healthcare Information Exchange

The current low rate of interoperability is a result of the challenges associated with healthcare information exchange. Below are four of the most pressing challenges that stand in the way of healthcare organizations achieving interoperability.

Inconsistent Data

Healthcare organizations generate data from multiple, disparate sources. These sources typically store data in the database in various formats and data types that are incompatible with each other.

When systems exchange incompatible data types, the recipient system can’t interpret the information. For example, medical records may contain the patient’s medical history and treatment plan. The recipient system must interpret this information to be able to use it.

Maintaining Client Data Confidentiality

Ensuring the confidentiality of patient health records is critical to maintaining a good reputation and, more importantly, complying with HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act).

Electronic health records (EHR)  need a secure mechanism to validate requests for patient information.

Many providers use systems that may or may not be compatible with EHR products, which can potentially result in a breach of regulations like HIPAA.

Once the ONC’s Cures Act Final Rule comes into force, healthcare providers will need to comply with its new training and certification requirements too.

Personal health information (PHI) breaches can be a recipe for losing reputation and heavy penalties.

Conflict of Interest

Not all businesses want to share patient data because you’ll often need to share information with a direct competitor.

For example, if you’re a hospital, you’ll understandably be reluctant to share patient data with urgent care clinics.

Regulations are the best solution to this challenge. The Cures Act has various information-blocking provisions that will compel healthcare providers to provide information when appropriate.

Cost of Hiring an Interoperability Specialist

Achieving interoperability is expensive because it requires specialists that dedicate their time to maintain interoperability.

Of course, this person needs the right qualifications and experience handling interoperability-related tasks.

If you make some rough calculations, you’ll see just how expensive hiring this specialist can be. The cost makes providers, especially smaller healthcare businesses, rethink the feasibility of interoperability.

The solution to this problem is simpler than the previous ones. Instead of hiring a person, you can invest in an automated interoperability system that takes care of most tasks.

An automation system costs significantly less than hiring a specialist in the long term.

5 Benefits of Healthcare Interoperability

The benefits of healthcare interoperability far outweigh the cost of addressing the challenges. Here are the five benefits healthcare interoperability offers.

Improves Patient Outcomes and Experience

Healthcare interoperability isn’t just a regulatory burden. It’s an asset you can build to improve patient outcomes and experience.

As life expectancy rises, interoperability will prepare you for value-based patient care. Real-time access to a patient’s medical history allows you to get a deeper insight into the patient’s condition and minimize medical errors.

Data access also reduces duplication of efforts. Since you’ll have the information about diagnosis, tests, and results, you can directly start working on developing a treatment plan or running other tests.

You’ll know about the patient’s allergies and health plan before starting treatment so that you can provide appropriate advice.

These factors collectively improve the patient’s experience and allow you to provide better care.

Reduces Cost of Care

Interoperability reduces the cost of care in multiple ways:

  • Streamlines care delivery: Better coordination among healthcare providers streamlines care delivery. You won’t have to repeat tests, and you’ll have the information about the previous diagnosis and treatment.
  • Minimizes errors: Interoperability reduces the cost of care by minimizing medical errors.
  • Increased productivity: Your administrative staff won’t have to reenter the same data over and over once you’ve achieved interoperability. Your team saves time on manual data entry when you use technologies like intelligent document processing (IDP) to convert physical documents into digital files.

Collectively, these factors can help reduce the cost of care by a good margin. You can transfer these savings to your patients to offer them more value at a lower cost.

Keeps Patient Data Secure

Patients trust that their data is safe with healthcare providers. Compromising this data’s integrity can result in a loss of reputation. Ensuring data integrity is also a compliance requirement.

Hundreds of electronic medical records are compromised daily. As many as 54,396 individuals were affected just by a single breach at the NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital on March 20, 2023.

Your systems need to be HIPAA-compliant. The best interoperability partners are experienced in creating compliant interoperability solutions, which is reassuring when implementing a complex technological solution with legal implications.

Contributes to Research

The data you collect during regular business, like diagnosing, testing, and treating patients can be an asset for public health researchers.

Interoperability allows researchers to request data from your systems for studies in various medical fronts like epidemiology and pathology.

This helps build a good reputation. You can add the fact that you share data with scientists to contribute to society and build goodwill for your healthcare business.

Minimizes Burnout

Digital transformation generally makes processes faster and easier. But the situation with EHR adoption is a little different.

The administrative load on physicians has increased significantly because of compliance requirements and disparate solutions used by clinicians.

That’s where interoperability helps. It allows you to automate mundane labor-intensive tasks like data entry.

With less time spent on time-consuming and repetitive tasks, your administrative staff won’t reel under the pressure of EHR compliance requirements. Addressing burnout also reduces the probability of human error.

Start Your Interoperability Journey with Blanc Labs

Achieving structural interoperability offers various benefits. Selecting a partner with extensive experience managing APIs is critical to reaping the full benefits of structural interoperability and frictionless implementation.

Blanc Labs are experts at building standards-based interoperability solutions that enable healthcare organizations to improve patient outcomes, enhance efficiency and achieve seamless integration within the health ecosystem.

Book a discovery session with Blanc Labs to learn how we can help your healthcare business achieve interoperability.

Navigating the Healthcare Interoperability Journey

Healthcare | Digital Transformation | Interoperability | IT Management

Navigating the Healthcare Interoperability Journey

May 18, 2023
Interoperability journey

The journey of navigating healthcare interoperability is a critical one, and an incredibly complex endeavor. Healthcare organizations must tackle big tasks like accessing exchange networks, mapping messages across systems, and integrating with multiple data sources while also operating within tight compliance rules. It can be especially daunting for executives tasked with ensuring successful implementation. If this describes you or someone on your team, don’t worry—there are ways to ensure success as you undertake the process of achieving healthcare interoperability.

In this article we explain what it means to embark on an interoperability journey and how best to implement it throughout an enterprise organization.

Stage 1: Strategy and Roadmap

Beginning the healthcare interoperability journey involves addressing key pain points, such as:

  1. A lack of common standards and communication protocols between existing health systems like Electronic Medical Record (EMR), Laboratory Information Systems (LIS), etc.
  2. Limited IT budgets and minimal underlying infrastructure
  3. A shortage of interoperability-focused resources

To tackle these challenges, the first step is to create a well-defined strategy, followed by a comprehensive gap analysis and a dynamic roadmap aimed at ensuring regulatory compliance and achieving seamless integration of healthcare data. A crucial aspect of this journey is addressing the CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) mandate that requires healthcare organizations to adopt and implement interoperability standards.

At this stage of the interoperability journey, organizations move from having disconnected data systems to making data organized and manageable. Applications of interoperability at this stage include patient-centered care.

The importance of securing curated and standardized health data

Securing curated and standardized data is crucial in ensuring that information is both organized and meaningful, particularly in the context of patient-centered care. By utilizing a data curation process, healthcare providers can effectively gather, annotate, and maintain relevant datasets that accurately represent patients’ medical histories, conditions, and preferences. This process often involves removing inconsistencies or inaccuracies, as well as integrating data from various sources into one unified platform. Standardizing this data in accordance with industry regulations or established protocols, such as the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) or Systematized Nomenclature of Medicine – Clinical Terms (SNOMED CT), enables seamless communication and the exchange of information.

Furthermore, the implementation of advanced security measures, including encryption and robust access controls, helps protect sensitive patient information from unauthorized access or potential breaches, adhering to privacy standards like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Altogether, the rigorous curation, standardization, and security of data serve as foundational elements in the journey to interoperability.

Stage 2: Validating Strategy

The journey towards interoperability maturity is a complex and ongoing process, requiring healthcare organizations to regularly validate their strategies and roadmaps, align budgets with evolving business needs and technological advancements, and comply with CMS mandates. Achieving interoperability maturity involves focusing on core aspects such as:

  • Enabling seamless communication and coordination between disparate systems
  • Instituting a robust data management plan with accurate data mapping
  • Leveraging cutting-edge API technologies to address diverse use cases efficiently

Organizations must stay ahead of the curve by continuously assessing and refining their interoperability efforts with industry best practices and regulatory requirements as benchmarks. This iterative approach ensures that organizations can consistently drive improvements in care delivery, patient satisfaction, and long-term healthcare outcomes.

By this stage in the interoperability journey, companies graduate from simply having organized data systems to making them data analytics ready. This enables organizations to track patients over a longer period and participate in integrated healthcare.

Interoperability journey

Stage 3: Developing and end-to-end ecosystem for healthcare interoperability

The last stage in the healthcare interoperability journey is about addressing the alignment between business and technology objectives. A fundamental aspect of this stage is obtaining leadership buy-in, thereby empowering organizations to extend their interoperability initiatives beyond what is mandated by regulatory and industry requirements.

By focusing on enabling a comprehensive end-to-end solution for interoperability, organizations can leverage the potential of emerging standards, such FHIR, to facilitate seamless intra- and cross-organizational data exchange. Additionally, investing in the development of an Application Programming Interface (API)-driven ecosystem allows organizations to foster a highly connected, flexible, and scalable technology infrastructure that promotes innovative and improved patient-centric care services.

In the final stage of the healthcare interoperability journey, organizations are in the position to develop data driven applications (e.g predictive analytics, advanced reporting, population health management, etc.) using the latest technologies like AI to improve patient outcomes, enhance operational efficiency & increase profitability.

Get Started on your Healthcare Interoperability Journey with Blanc Labs

Interoperability can seem daunting, especially when trying to make sense of the entire journey. However, if approached methodically and incrementally with a well-thought-out strategy and roadmap, the end result can be a more secure, efficient, and user-centric system. Starting with developing the vision for an ecosystem that works for both you and your customers should give you confidence for making investments in interoperability technologies.

To understand how the interoperability journey will apply to your organization, simply speak to an expert from Blanc Labs today.

Delivering a world-class teledermatology solution in partnership with MedX and Smile Digital Health

Healthcare | FHIR | Interoperability | Technology Architecture

Delivering a world-class teledermatology solution in partnership with MedX and Smile Digital Health

May 5, 2022

In 2021, MedX Health Corp (MedX) engaged Blanc Labs to upgrade the SIAscope from PC-based hardware to a browser-based, multilingual interface that could also host patient data in a secure cloud. In collaboration with MedX stakeholders and Smile Digital Health, Blanc Labs’ multi-disciplinary team of designers, engineers, and product specialists created a solution within just twelve months.

In this webinar, Blanc Labs CIO, Dariush Zomorrodi, speaks about Blanc Labs’ partnership with MedX and Smile Digital Health in delivering an efficient and effective teledermatology solution to a global market.