How Digital Innovations Boost Operational Efficiencies in Healthcare
How Innovations in Healthcare Create Operational Efficiencies
Healthcare providers do more than testing, diagnosing, and treating patients. There’s a business side that must function smoothly and efficiently to make the clinical work possible. The business of healthcare is complex. It’s made up of the same elements in any business, like sales & marketing, finance & accounting, operations, and so on. But layered on top are regulatory compliance, population health strategy, and, well, responsibility for people’s lives.
To provide the best care possible to their patients, healthcare executives have to implement smart operational and procedural strategies. Digital innovation should be a part of these discussions. More and more healthcare groups successfully implement technologies supporting their goals. Ignoring these advances puts any organization at risk of lagging behind competitors. Healthcare leaders must find ways to apply today’s technologies in uniquely innovative ways to stay ahead of the curve.
THE ROLE OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE
AI has found its way into every aspect of healthcare, from electronic health records (EHRs), to diagnostics, to treatment. It’s transformed how healthcare is done, and that won’t stop any time soon. Sometimes overlooked is the role AI can play in optimizing operations and processes. Robotics Process Automation (RPA) is attracting attention as it automates repetitive operational tasks like benefit coding, denials, supply sourcing, procurement, and staff scheduling.
“Compared with traditional IT solutions, RPA enables organizations to automate processes at a fraction of the cost and time previously required.”
Another AI technology called Cognitive—or Intelligent—Automation (CA) analyzes complex data and imitates human thinking to perform non-routine tasks. Some of the specialized technologies CA uses to do this are machine learning, natural language processing (NLP), speech and image recognition, and conversational interfaces. A common application of CA in healthcare is automating prior authorizations, a normally time- and cost-intensive task. The National Center for Biotechnology Information cites Cleveland Clinic’s use of CA to design “personalized health intervention programs” to help patients with lifestyle change—for instance, in controlling obesity. Automating these tasks enables higher-paid, higher-qualified staff to focus on more strategic, big-picture tasks.
But CA is still developing and should be approached and implemented thoughtfully. It’s best to choose a specific problem to solve, implement the program & observe results, then explore any other areas that could benefit from it.
THE ROLE OF ANALYTICS
Analytics has come to be used as an umbrella term for all methods of data aggregation and analysis. But there are several distinct branches: descriptive (also known as business intelligence, or BI), predictive, and prescriptive.
Descriptive analytics takes collected data and quantifies it, presents reports in a way humans can understand. How many in-patient cases resulted in hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) in the last year? How many patient readmissions occurred in the past 30 days? Descriptive analytics provides historical information, but does not analyze it.
Predictive analytics builds upon this by applying algorithms and predictive models to collected data to forecast future outcomes. Given current processes, how many HAIs will occur in the next year and how much will it cost the hospital to treat? How many patient readmissions will result in in-patient stays in the next 30 days? Predictive analytics gives executive the ability to plan for the future, but does not provide solutions to problem areas.
Prescriptive analytics is the next rung on the ladder. It analyzes collected data, predicts future outcomes, identifies problem areas, and suggests solutions. Problem: Given current processes, HAIs numbers will increase and impose significant costs. Solution: The 2nd shift nursing staff has been associated with the highest number of HAIs. Focus on handwashing hygiene re-education and updating protocols.
Clearly, these technologies have wide-ranging implications in healthcare. Workflow optimization, clinical and business decision support, population management, and financial performance modeling are just a few areas where analytics can mean huge leaps in operational efficiency.
CLOUD AND NETWORK INTEROPERABILITY
Digital technology advances just won’t work without data. Widespread data availability, like accurate & actionable payer information at multiple points of care, can result in daily efficiencies. The CDC’s National Syndromic Surveillance Program (NSSP) uses cloud technology to share data with state and local health departments, allowing local health officials to study national data in context and create programs to positively affect population health. Data sharing through network and platform interoperability is critical to forward progress.
But upgrading interoperability also allows healthcare IT organizations to re-use existing platforms by building upon them, instead of implementing new systems whenever new features or programs are needed. The Children’s Hospital of Orange County is doing just that by completing install of a fully-fledged EHR system, moving more and more of their IT stack to the cloud, and beginning implementation of a customer relationship management (CRM) platform. Investing in network interoperability creates a foundation that enables the use of new technologies and controls costs by re-using existing assets for future needs.
Digital advances are steadily reducing costs and improving care not only by enhancing clinical work, but also by addressing operational needs of healthcare organizations. AI, analytics, and cloud are actively being used to reduce manual effort for repetitive tasks, support business decisions through trend analysis and prediction, and promote widespread data availability.
Healthcare organizations can only thrive by proactively innovating, by pursuing ways to put digital technology to use and implementing in a way that serves everyone. Using today’s technology to streamline operations is a necessary step in digital transformation.