Information Technology in healthcare may not produce miracles, but will manage and automate information flows and reveal inefficiencies and potential savings in business processes. Hence IT is a step towards better performance in healthcare. Potential savings can be achieved with IT by employing a ‘best of breed’ IT strategy based around integration and portal technology.
Current industry research name the following three factors as the main contributors to rising healthcare costs:
- Cost of treatments: increasingly sophisticated and expensive
- Aging population: creates a rise in demand for healthcare including the most expensive treatments and techniques
- Controlling costs: the lack of cost standards; fragmented and inconsistent information which in turn causes IT users to constantly re-product or re-invent the information needed
What can be viewed as an “Elementary Care Loop”, which includes clinics, tests, procedures, treatments and medication, is a cycle that each patient experiences during their treatment. In a big hospital, this cycle may occur several hundred times a day, and when treating chronic conditions, this loop is essentially an infinite cycle. When we understand the inherent inefficient use of resources it is easy to see why this loop, repeated hundreds of times, can generate numerous inefficiencies. It is therefore largely important that information is reliable so that you are not obliged to re-create existing data, which can potentially generate inconsistencies. This reliability of information can be achieved with the use of portal technology and by addressing data quality issues.
So, the question is: how can IT spur improved productivity and do more with less in healthcare given the specific characteristics of the healthcare production model?
Four Areas of Healthcare Inefficiency
Understanding the activities of the Elementary Care Loop, there are four areas where inefficiencies appear:
- Consumables: Overspend of medicine, syringes, water, electricity, meals, contrast and test products, etc.
- Resource Management (poor use of fixed resources): Lost time owing to poor resource management and a longer length of stay (LOS) than expected or required.
- Activity Management (doing the wrong/inappropriate thing): Lost time due to poorly adapted or inappropriate processes. Here the time loss is not task or resource dependent, but process dependent.
- Patient Experience (lack of patient engagement): Inefficiencies due to inadequate communication or involvement of the patient in the care process. Loss of time for the patient and late diagnosis or treatment that can seriously jeopardize the outcomes.
Healthcare Savings with IT Systems
Leveraging an integration engine provides much better control over the interfacing. An integration engine allows the transformation and transmission of information to clinicians and patients in multiple modes such as emails and SMS.
A well-designed integration engine saves hours of programming and maintenance of interfaces. Moreover, an integration engine can also support significant improvements in spending on variable costs and assist in better managing scarce resources.
A clinical portal is not the only way to achieve the goal of having patient-centric systems, but it is the most convenient as it is designed for this purpose, without the need to rip and replace existing information systems.
A portal offers a way to progressively evolve and change subsystems without taking the risk of switching one system to another at one time. That benefit corresponds to savings of real training time (training can be done on a longer period while the “old” and the “new” systems are running together via the portal). Moreover, it can save hours of potentially wasted time after realizing that the new system does not exactly perform the way it was supposed to perform.
One difficulty healthcare organizations have to face is that with poorly designed IT systems, a professional’s time is often diverted from what they are essentially paid to do. For instance, doctors should make diagnoses and prescribe treatments, not manage IT systems. The introduction of badly designed IT demands extra administrative work from healthcare professionals, distracting them from their real job.
To further engage patients to take control over their own healthcare journeys, a properly implemented healthcare IT system can allow them to execute a number of tasks themselves, without having to rely on a healthcare professional.
A long but worthwhile journey
The complexity of healthcare means that IT will always be challenging to implement, and measuring its impact is equally difficult. However, it is clear that the benefits of improved IT are there, including significant potential to control and reduce costs, as well as improve patient outcomes.
eHealth is a long and difficult journey, but it is a journey worth taking.