For Karen Underwood, Director of Product Management for Ensocare, the most exciting thing about healthcare isn’t what’s happening today. It’s trying to anticipate what’s going to be the next big thing tomorrow.
“In its most basic form, I’m responsible for the direction of our products,” said Karen. “Whether it’s the Transition software or our mobile apps and reporting software, we basically say, ‘here’s what it does today, but what should it do in the coming year, three years from now, five years from now?’
“But it’s not just me that decides that. What’s really fun about Ensocare is, there are so many people who know so much about the industry, it’s really a collaborative effort where we meet and say, ‘This is what our roadmap looks like. Is this still the right path?’”
In a field like healthcare that evolves frequently to meet the demands of patients, physicians, CMS requirements and more, that kind of flexibility is essential to creating products that meet user’s needs today while anticipating what nurses, case managers and other users may need years down the road.
Healthcare IT: A Futureproof Industry
Karen’s experience within IT has served her well when building products that ultimately impact patient outcomes.
“I have been in software product management for over 15 years, but I knew I wanted to get into the healthcare field. I heard that CQuence Health Group [parent company to Ensocare] as a whole was a great company to work for, but I just never thought there would be an opportunity for me there. It was great to learn that they had joined forces with Ensocare and had an opening in product management.”
Many people may not realize the impact that IT can have behind the scenes of the frontlines of patient care. But Karen understood not just its importance, but how its place in the healthcare ecosystem would only grow as data security, infrastructure and interoperability became top of mind within the industry.
“Just looking at the future, there’s so much potential and so much that can be done in healthcare. I feel like it’s still a fairly new field for IT. It’s a lot of fun to be able to take all these requests and ideas and figure out what’s the best spot for us and what we should be doing.”
Anyone within healthcare will likely admit that the field has been slow to adopt innovative technologies that other industries jumped on years ago. As Karen points out, healthcare systems have only recently turned their attention to IT development.
“It’s interesting how many healthcare facilities still rely on fax machines for communication of patient information,” said Karen. “In this industry, the newest technology isn’t commonplace. We’re rolling out a new app for our hospitals even as many hospitals don’t have company-provided smartphones. I feel like our industry, product and userbase will be much different in ten years as the population that might not be accustomed to technology continues to age and leave the workforce and a different generation comes in. There’s so much potential and so much opportunity, but it’s going to take a while to get there.”
How Ensocare Addresses the Gap
This transition to an increasingly digital environment creates opportunities for software companies like Ensocare. The company is well-positioned to identify areas of potential improvement and, with engineering, QA and product management teams in-house, capable of developing solutions that health systems need both now and in the future.
For example, the healthcare field is composed of two key worker populations, as Karen hinted above. First are those who have been in the field for a long time and came up in a system where computers, apps and instant messaging were not commonplace, and second is the incoming generation of Millennials and Gen-Z’ers for whom these kinds of tools are an extension of self.
Ensocare has the chance to address the communication gap between these generations, and Karen and her team are responsible for walking that tightrope of pushing for IT adoption while not turning off those who may not be ready.
“I think our new user interface is a good example,” she said. “We really wanted to accomplish two things. One was to make it look modern and fresh so that it’s helpful to the newer consumer who’s used to working with websites and smartphone apps. But we also made it easier to use for that generation who maybe isn’t as familiar with technology or who only comes in to work maybe once a month. It’s a guided workflow that walks you through the referral process so you know exactly where you are and what you need to do.”
As leader of the product management team, Karen must survey the healthcare landscape and, with the input of her team and in consultation with Ensocare executives and other experts in the health IT field, decide what to prioritize in the coming months and years. This willingness to adapt has led to some of Ensocare’s most exciting new initiatives coming in 2019.
“Social determinants of health (SDOH) was a shift we didn’t see originally. One of our clients brought it to us and said they’d like to have us as a part of their thinktank. The more we learned, the more we realized this isn’t just a fad or a trend, this is something that’s going to change the focus of healthcare.”
Karen and her team began researching the ways Ensocare might help hospitals and post-acute providers address those aspects of a person’s lifestyle not necessarily related to the medical side of things but that nevertheless have an outsized impact on overall wellbeing. These social determinants of health include factors like transportation, nutrition, familial support and more.
Karen quickly realized that much of the battle is simply making hospitals and, in turn, patients, aware of the many resources available in the community. This led her to present on this very topic to an eager audience at the Nebraska chapter of HIMSS.
“My presentation was on small ways to impact population health,” she said. “Let’s at least make people aware that there are resources available. My first question I asked to everyone before we started the presentation was who had a [SDOH] program today in their hospitals. Not a single hand went up, which really surprised me. I went in with what I thought would be some pretty basic information and it turned out that it’s still a new enough concept that even the basics are helpful.”
The good news? There are straightforward ways to address this, even at smaller facilities.
“Have your care coordinators or your social workers compile a list of the resources in your area. Decide what you want on the list: name and address, a phone number, hours of operation, the services they provide, etc., and figure out how to organize those. Then you have a patient handout listing the resources that are available for their specific needs. If you have the ability to do something electronic, create a simple website at your hospital listing those resources, or an electronic form they can fill out.”
That’s only the beginning, as there’s definitely room for growth in this area. The promise of the tools that are out there to address the SDOH is immense, and Ensocare plans some exciting announcements to share with you in that regard in early 2019.
Looking to the Future…Again
For her part, Karen is excited about some of the new product features and types of support Ensocare will be developing and offering in 2019.
“We’re going to be rolling out several partnerships that are going to be really beneficial to our product line. I’m really excited to be able to offer more products and services to our clients.”
“The thing I like about this company is just how much growth there is. Even from when I started, we’ve expanded people and products and capabilities and hospitals. There’s so much to be done and you just feel like people are working really hard towards a common goal. There’s always something new in the mix. It’s a good place to be.”