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Weekend edition April 15, 2022 | Kailyn Lamb

Covenant Health Senior VP provides insights on tech in healthcare for Chamber

By Kailyn Lamb, Marketing Content Writer and Editor, PYA

Earlier this month, Dr. Mandy Halford, Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Informatics Officer at Covenant Health, presented during a Knoxville Chamber webinar focused on “Technology in Healthcare.”

Telehealth has become an increasingly important part of daily life as the early stages of the pandemic barred people from going to the doctor for non-COVID related problems. While Halford did focus some of her time on the topic, she also talked about the history of Electronic Health Records (EHR) and other advances that continue to improve patient care.

For Halford, the most important part of any new technology in healthcare is that it aids providers in putting patient needs first. While EHRs may seem commonplace today, they were born in the early 2000s when studies and news articles were showing the U.S. was one of the unhealthiest nations in the world. Electronic records were then established to help with data capturing and sharing.

But it wasn’t easy. Both doctors and patients struggled with the new program.

“The key to that is to have really strong physician leaders,” Halford said. “It’s really important to get those early adopters.” Early adopters are important for implementing new programs in any business, she added, not just healthcare.

Over the years EHRs have continued to go through an optimization process. The goal is to have the records follow the patient through their healthcare journey. The problem is people move or visit other places. This can make it difficult for providers to see the history of care.

The East Tennessee Health Information Network (eTHIN) is a nonprofit organization that helps 1.6 million patients with record sharing. Providers such as Covenant Health can use eTHIN in addition to better integrate the patient’s records. A similar national program helps providers see patient records from out of state and even follow up with them once they have returned to their normal physician.

“This is extremely important not just for Covenant Health but really for our community,” Halford said. “As you can imagine, with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in our backyard, we have a lot of tourism.”

Access to handheld devices has changed how patients interact with data. Halford said Covenant Health decided to build a new patient portal that would go “above and beyond” health records. My Covenant Health is available to patients as an app and an online login. The healthcare network focused on the consumer framework so patients could have access to information they needed quickly.

Covenant also expanded the platform for nonpatients so that people could send cards to patients at a Covenant facility or learn more information about visiting patients.

Having My Covenant Health available as an app was important, Halford said, as more and more people are relying on phones for information. However, the “multi-channel approach” is still important for people who prefer phones calls. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Covenant also developed a chat bot to help people on its website.

When thinking about the future of technology in healthcare, Halford said people prefer convenience, accessibility, and affordability.

“These are really some of the key drivers on why it’s important to have a virtual care strategy,” she said.

Some of the trends the healthcare organization saw were the downward trend of physical visits and upward trend of mobile platforms across the nation.

Covenant recently opened a Virtual Care Operation Center which can help connect doctors to patients via a virtual platform. The Center augments the bedside team and offers ICU services.

The Center became important during COVID when many doctors had to be moved from rural areas to Knoxville to meet patient demand. Using the Virtual Care Operation Center, Covenant doctors were still able to meet with patients virtually in those rural areas.

Covenant also opened a managed services company and data center to coincide with the Virtual Care Operation Center. Read more in this article.

To close the panel, Halford said technology advancements need to continue meeting patients where they are. Hospitals also need to consider the population and its need when they begin to do outreach for patients.

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