This article appears in the October 2021 issue of the
PE GI Journal
Keeping current with IT opportunities and challenges
Information technology (IT) is playing an increasingly pivotal role in helping gastroenterologists manage and operate their practices and ASCs. But as reliance on IT has grown, so have the risks with which gastroenterologists must contend.
“These days, discussions around advancing GI usually include discussion of advancing technology,” says John Westby, Vice President of IT for PE GI Solutions. “To bring about improvements in your clinical, operational, and financial performance, you will typically need to support those efforts with technology. However, if you want your company to stay healthy as you pursue and leverage IT advancements, you do not want to be sidetracked by disruptive events.”
To best support its partners, PE GI Solutions is proactive in how it approaches providing IT support and services. Westby says. “Technologies are advancing and maturing in this space as rapidly as any other sector I have worked. Providers are embracing the evolution in technology to drive their business to a new level, and we’re happy to help them. At the same time, security and regulatory needs are increasing, and we’re dedicated to addressing those as well.”
8 Areas of IT Focus
The following are eight areas PE GI Solutions is focusing on to help its partners maximize opportunities to use new and emerging technologies while meeting the evolving challenges associated with IT.
1. Cloud migration
The applications that run providers’ core business operations are increasingly moving to the cloud. This is not just a fad, Westby explains. Therefore, it is important for providers to understand the reasoning behind the shift. They must also understand what it will mean for their operations.
“Software developers have very good reasons for migrating toward cloud technology,” Westby says. “They’re increasingly focused on integration across applications to remove errors and better streamline work. The cloud allows them to provide greater scale and more rapid turnaround of functionality improvements to their customer base.”
Westby continues, “The good news for our partners is that, as they move to cloud solutions, they are achieving improvements in their business operations. They are also benefiting from vendors investing in resiliency—which is the preparation for planned and unplanned disruptions—in their hosting capabilities.”
2. Healthcare data interoperability
This is an area seeing rapid advancements. “Vendors that provide clinical capabilities are achieving improvements in the integration of the electronic medical record (EMR) with GI procedural equipment, such as scopes and monitors,” says Westby. “Such integration is starting to allow providers to take the data they capture and run it through more advanced analytics to extract even more value out of the data to strengthen outcomes and the patient experience.”
Providers are continuing to gain a better appreciation of the value of this integration and the data interoperability it provides. This means that there is an increased desire to achieve integration in other areas, such as scheduling and clinical results. The GI industry is increasingly looking to improve the flow of information across systems from different providers. “Doctors want to be able to move from their practice to the ASC and get as seamless of a technology experience as possible,” says Westby. “This functionality is not very pervasive and achieving it will be complicated. Since that’s where the industry is heading, we’re working to figure out how to bring these capabilities to our partners.”
3. Patient engagement
Another area receiving increased attention is the use of patient engagement technologies. This encompasses a wide range of solutions, from patient portals to kiosks for checking in and completing consents to communication tools like text messaging and apps. “These and other electronic platforms can help GI practices and ASCs digitally engage with patients in nearly all aspects of their visits,” Westby says. “While not all patients are eager to use these tools, we’re seeing a growing number embrace them and appreciate how they can improve their care experience.”
4. Security policies
PE GI Solutions continues to adopt industry best practices around security policies and supports its partners in doing the same. “You need controls to ward off the rapidly growing number of cyberthreats,” says Westby. “Examples of controls include multifactor authentication, password management, and ongoing monitoring and logging of the events happening in your environment. Some of these policies are required by HIPAA, and all are just good defense mechanisms.”
One of the top security challenges facing providers today is phishing. That’s why the PE GI Solutions team is investing in proactive campaigns, overseen by a company called KnowBe4, designed to train and educate its partners about this form of social engineering. Cybercriminals use phishing techniques. It tricks computer users into clicking links that can deploy malicious software like ransomware onto a computer or network. Phishing can also be used to convince users to share sensitive personal information, like a login or password.
“Many data breaches can be tied back to somebody clicking something they shouldn’t have, such as a link in an email or an attachment,” Westby says. “We’re giving our partners advanced education on phishing and running campaigns to simulate phishing events. We can see who is tricked into clicking a link and then provide them further training to help reduce the likelihood that they will make the same mistake again. We’re also working to make it easier for staff to report suspected malicious emails and files.”
6. Business continuity
Despite one’s best efforts, it is impossible to ensure that an IT disaster event, like a successful ransomware attack, will never happen. This makes business continuity—which includes resiliency and the ability to restore technology infrastructure and data—essential to IT planning. “You need good industry practices that can help you recover and ‘get well’ in case you experience a bad event,” says Westby. “Security is part of this, but it also includes the ability to effectively manage your data backup and executive disaster recovery so you can be up and running like normal as quickly as possible. This is an area we are very much focused on in our planning with our partners.”
7. Security information and event management (SIEM)
A fundamental IT security best practice concerns fortifying an organization’s network perimeter. This is done through a combination of the design of the network, configuration of the firewalls, and usage of advanced filtering capability, among other defensive tactics. PE GI Solutions is now complementing these strategies with next-generation detection, analytics and response software called SIEM. “Using advanced analytics,” Westby says, “SIEM constantly assesses the traffic coming in and out of a network to flag concerning data and create corresponding alerts. This is another level of protection against the ever-increasing threats facing providers today.”
8. Artificial intelligence (AI)
AI is an emerging facet of IT that Westby says seems largely untapped. However, it has incredible potential to help the GI industry. “AI has the capability to find patterns and meaning in data that providers could not possibly identify on their own. Our partners are collecting some incredibly rich data about their patients and outcomes. AI may allow us to look more closely at that data—and do it across practices and ASCs—in ways I believe could make our data an even greater asset in improving outcomes.”
Westby acknowledges that little about AI is assured. However, he is optimistic about the future it will play in the delivery of GI care. “It’s always hit or miss on whether the algorithms that data scientists can build in the software will provide meaningful value. However, I believe that when you couple the richness of our data with the right algorithms, this could certainly be a game changer.”
Read more about AI in the GI industry in “The AI Revolution” on page 18.
One Eye on the Present, One on the Future
In developing and maintaining its multifaceted IT plan, PE GI Solutions is as focused on the current needs of its partners as it is on preparing for what’s coming down the road. This balance helps facilities take advantage of the systems and solutions available on the market today. Meanwhile, it ensures new technologies and risks are identified and adequately prepared for.
“The plan is equal parts around the technology our partners are using, the processes needed to manage and respond to events, and the security policies required to help protect the IT environment,” says Westby. “We see how advances in technology are making a notable impact on health outcomes, efficiency, and sometimes profitability. If we want to continue to take full advantage of the ways IT is helping take the GI industry forward, we must always be prepared to confront and overcome the threats that could force us to take steps back.”