Voices: Kevin Whitehurst, Senior Vice President, Skilled Nursing Solutions, MatrixCare

This article is sponsored by MatrixCare. In this Voices interview, Skilled Nursing News sits down with MatrixCare Senior Vice President of Skilled Nursing Solutions Kevin Whitehurst to learn the new challenges for skilled nursing providers in 2021, the emerging technologies that will help SNFs overcome those challenges and top strategies for boosting occupancy.

Skilled Nursing News: Kevin, you’ve had a long and varied career. What experiences do you draw from most in your role at MatrixCare?

Kevin Whitehurst: I’ve been in long-term care technology for 31 years. I started my career in Washington, D.C. working directly with the agency known today as CMS to develop the first computerized MDS software. Since then, I’ve worked with over 12 electronic health records and have experienced all aspects of the related regulatory changes at a very detailed level. I have seen providers advance from paper dependency to full embracement of automation, and draw the most from my history of working directly with those providers to implement technology and gain value.

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What new challenges do you see in 2021 for skilled providers, and where will their focus be this year that wasn’t last year?

Whitehurst: Skilled nursing providers are trying to overcome a sense of decline, staffing shortage, reimbursement decline and, of course, living in the age of COVID and post-COVID. I would narrow down other challenges this year to three key areas: legislation, sustainability and reputation.

With the new administration, there’s a high probability of new regulations that will impact patient care, reimbursement and technology. Providers will have to stay agile and informed, either by closely following regulations themselves or aligning with organizations that do so for them.

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From a sustainability standpoint, patient flow to maintain occupancy levels will require more strategic insight to overcome the direct hospital-to-home trends. To do this, providers are becoming more diversified in the care they provide as well as the care settings they offer. As a result, we are already seeing more focus on home health as part of the portfolio.

Another unfortunate outcome of the coronavirus has been the loss of popularity of nursing homes. With reputation playing a critical role this year, providers who are able to do more with less resources and use technology to improve their clinical processes, clinical response and as a result, clinical outcomes, will be most effective.

What are the emerging technologies that you think will help address these challenges that you just listed?

Whitehurst: Providing quality care and running a profitable business are critical and top of mind, but understanding how technology supports those strategies is equally important.

For long-term care, the gold nugget is in the data. You hear a lot of talk about data in all practicalities, but not as much on how to seamlessly weave it into your normal business routine – or which data is actually useful.

I use the analogy “Give with no return,” and what I mean by this is providers enter data all day in various parts of their EHRs and get nothing back other than what they already entered. Providers need their EHR to analyze their data and use it to tell them how they can improve, prevent risk and forecast revenue. Many refer to this as predictive analytics.

MatrixCare has introduced predictive analytics using deep machine learning technology that has not only changed the way providers deliver care, but also the expectations of what an EHR should be able to do. We’re already getting feedback about how this technology has helped providers reduce the risk of falls, and are excited for all the ways this technology can help providers address their most pressing challenges.

Why are data analytics specifically important for skilled providers this year?

Whitehurst: It’s like solving a puzzle to figure out why quality measures are declining or why one care center is outperforming another. To get the full picture, you have to consider every touchpoint– clinical and financial.

With predictive analytics, deep machine learning handles those calculations. MatrixCare has algorithms to analyze more than 150 data elements to provide the most predictive results. Some of the algorithms are defined by evidence-based organizations and science, and others by good old-fashioned nursing.

As skilled nursing facilities look to effectively manage and grow their business this year, analytics will be an invaluable tool for better understanding their business and patient population. With data-driven insights, providers can be more informed, make smarter and better decisions, and make those decisions quicker.

What about technology interoperability — why does that matter specifically this year?

Whitehurst: We’re embarking on another change in the way skilled providers use technology. For example, many now realize the importance of sharing data. A need to eliminate redundant data entry once drove this trend, but increasingly it is driven by a need to aggregate and harvest data from multiple sources. Moving beyond sharing and accepting data electronically, providers should be able to use that data for decision-making and analytics to improve the quality of care. We experienced this firsthand with our care coordination technology and referral management solutions.

Readily available data empowers providers to make key decisions about admissions and discharge planning. It also ensures better care planning during care transitions. Of equal importance is leveraging interoperability for securing long-term referral partnerships. Nearly 100% of acute and ambulatory providers are doing business electronically, and they expect their downstream partners and post-acute care to do the same thing.

In fact, 78% of referring providers recently reported they are likely to send more referrals to SNFs that can support advanced interoperability workflows, and 38% reported they would make care network decisions based on SNF interoperability capabilities. This represents a timely opportunity to use interoperability to compete effectively for referrals and earn a seat at the table with the rapidly forming care network.

What do you see as the top strategies for boosting occupancy this year? It feels like that is the top problem that everyone is trying to address.

Whitehurst: Yes, absolutely. I think skilled providers are taking a serious look at their strategies for doing this, and I would say each requires providers to believe in technology in the same way they believe in the care they provide.

One strategy is rethinking and redesigning the portrayal of care centers and modernizing marketing efforts around them. Technology solutions that automate workflows will free up staff time that can be redirected toward these strategic initiatives, making existing resources much more valuable.

Another strategy is leveraging core competencies in care delivery to differentiate and diversify care models and offerings. You have to find your niche and build on that, while leveraging purpose-built technology that can support growth across care settings.

Lastly, identify key metrics your referral sources are looking for and focus on improving those areas to build a competitive advantage. To circle back to the example earlier in our conversation, predictive analytics to reduce fall risk doesn’t only create a safer environment for your residents, but positively impacts five-star ratings that referral sources use to choose where to send their patients. Using technology to analyze and understand changes in ratings and other quality indicators will provide a clear path toward how to improve your business to build appeal for referral sources and keep new patients coming into your facility.

Speaking of success stories, MatrixCare is working on a COVID-19 infection management dashboard. Tell us about that and how you’re using that — how is MatrixCare using it for vaccine tracking?

Whitehurst: We leverage analytics alerts and integrated workflows between the interdisciplinary teams to help facilities effectively manage infections. Our COVID-19 Severity Risk Dashboard analyzes more than 60 datapoints from within the EHR to provide facilities with at-a-glance, real-time data on each resident’s COVID-19 risk, including how severe an infection is likely to be if developed.

Again, this goes back to using the technology providers already enter into their EHR to provide actionable, predictive insights. This has helped thousands of facilities proactively manage their populations throughout the pandemic and has been informing vaccine prioritization so the most at-risk residents receive the vaccine first.

Our COVID-19 vaccine tracking tool allows facilities to track the resident vaccination schedule, second doses, note declined vaccines and reasoning and download pertinent information that can be used for reporting.

As with all of our technology, these tools help facilities streamline processes to improve efficiency and accuracy while making it easier to comply with evolving report requirements. Right now, our data shows that as of March 1, more than 1,800 long-term care facilities have used our vaccine tracking tool to track over 160,000 resident vaccinations.

2020 was a difficult and unprecedented year, what makes you hopeful in skilled nursing in 2021?

Whitehurst: I have confidence in the people running these organizations. You always hear negative stories, but I hear more optimism. What I hear across the industry are stories of strong leadership, resiliency and a lot of really good nursing.

We’re proud to work with so many stellar, savvy and success-oriented skilled nursing leaders. We will continue to draw on these strong relationships to make sure each has the tools they need to continue delivering high-quality care and succeed in these challenging times.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

MatrixCare is the only EHR provider to focus on the entire senior care continuum. To learn more about how MatrixCare can help your organization, visit MatrixCare.com.

The Voices Series is a sponsored content program featuring leading executives discussing trends, topics and more shaping their industry in a question-and-answer format. For more information on Voices, please contact sales@agingmedia.com.

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