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Un-complicating Healthcare IT

4 Signs Your Community Hospital’s IT Is Hurting Financials (And How To Fix Them)

Jun 18, 2015 8:09:00 AM Posted by Phil Stravers | Partner, V.P. Strategy & Development

4 Signs Your Community Hospital’s IT Is Hurting Financials (And How To Fix Them)Your community hospital faces a difficult task: providing top-notch care on a razor-thin budget.

Is your hospital IT hindering your progress instead of helping you reach your goals?

It’s a scary thought, but you might not even know it’s happening. If your leadership team looks at costs and top-line business indicators (think calls and close rates) without taking a detailed look at IT performance, you don’t know if your hospital’s IT investment is helping or hurting.

Beware of these four ineffective community hospital IT red flags:

1) Large, Unexpected IT Expenses

Surprise parties are fun. Surprise expenses, not so much.

Has a department head ever stormed into your office, demanding a costly IT purchase be made to alleviate their individual pain?

Under pressure, starting new projects simply to meet staff needs might seem like a good idea. But if your purchasing decisions aren’t guided by a robust IT strategy, you’ll end up way over budget and struggling to manage disparate systems.

After all, you don’t want to find out that a $250,000 nurse call system requires a $350,000 network infrastructure just to support it — after you’ve signed on the dotted line.

A lean healthcare IT strategy aligned to patient value is more effective. It proactively accounts for the technology (tools, modules and interfaces) and human resources (skills, expertise and discipline) needed to improve workflow, reduce interruptions and enhance the patient experience. If your decisions are based on department demands, compliance deadlines or individual vendor advice, you’re flying blind.

2) Fewer Patients, More Chart Time

Physicians that resort to workarounds (usually, by way of delegating data entry tasks to nurses) increase your risk of duplicate data entry, inaccurate data entry or missing data.

Subsequently, your coding department spends precious time chasing down information, driving up chart completion time, stretching out your hospital’s revenue and billing cycles, and increasing coding departments expenses.

Here’s the bottom line: everyone plays, or everyone pays. If physicians don’t pitch in and use your technology correctly, individual information silos compound, creating more work for everybody.

 3) Poor OR Integration

Your OR documentation system (or an EHR in the OR area) must integrate seamlessly with materials management, supply charging and inventory management.

When staff has to spend time gathering information from other areas and moving paper information into an electronic system, you risk making very costly order errors that bleed your bottom line over time.

 4) Lack Of Visibility

Knowledge is power.

If you don’t know how your systems are communicating, whether your processes are working and how end users are behaving, you’re likely not executing an IT plan that delivers results.

For example, do you know across your entire organization where clinicians are spending time in your hospital’s IT systems? You might also be surprised to learn how much time your IT team spends supporting non-core user activity, like Facebook page development. What appears harmless day-to-day, if measured over time, adds up to lost profitability.

A more pressing example: If your emergency department still sends faxes to the radiology department, bypassing the community hospital’s system entirely, your process is delayed, coding time increases and your revenue is directly affected.

If you recognize any of these warning signs, improve your IT strategy by aligning it to patient value and business goals. Start by:

 1) Rolling Back Your IT Plan

Repeat after me: “I will not make compliance my community hospital’s IT plan.”

Don’t focus on short-sighted success indicators like regulatory deadlines, install dates and project completion dates.

A lean healthcare approach is the best way to optimize workflow and mitigate complications that impact your hospital’s care, billing and revenue. Roll back your IT plan and re-align everything toward delivering patient value.

Never settle for “go live.” Continually improve your IT plan by taking patient and physician value measurements. Use patient and clinician surveys and pull data from your HCIS to measure your success. Data pulled might include time users spend in various systems, as well as what types of users spend the most time in each system.

 2) Creating And Utilizing Logical KPIs

If you don’t create and monitor the right key performance indicators (KPIs), you don’t know if your IT is helping or hurting your business.

Consider building a dashboard that shows critical information, such as chart completion time, revenue cycle time and medication reconciliation time (to start) in one place.

Then, create a culture that values the role of healthcare analytics and uses them to guide process improvements. Have super users coach staff based on your analytics.

For example, if ED chart completion time is creeping up, have your ED super user identify bottlenecks and hold mandatory training sessions that reinforce best practices and reduce costly interruptions.

3) Conducting Departmental Assessments

Supplement your survey and HCIS data with direct assessments in multiple departments, such as OR management, ED and coding.

Ask users from two different departments about the same process (such as order/results processing or transition of care) and compare answers. If you ask the same question and get different answers, you’re dealing with inconsistencies and, more than likely, workarounds.

Here’s your homework assignment for the day. Ask users in your OR: “How do you process supplies? How do you work with materials management?”

Then, go to materials management and ask the same question.

Both should communicate the same data entry and utilization protocols. Incongruity is dangerous. If one is working entirely in your HCIS and the other is using paper, for instance, error potential is too high for comfort.

Ultimately, your hospital’s IT plan must make patient value its top priority, developing processes and implementing systems that prioritize it over compliance and project deadlines. A lean, patient-centric IT plan lets you set an accurate budget, use analytics to optimize processes and reduce care interruptions that hurt your community hospital’s revenue and bottom line.


Phil Stravers | Partner, V.P. Strategy & Development

Phil Stravers, Partner and EVP of Strategy & Market Development at ICE Technologies, Inc. has been in consulting and management roles within the information technology industry for over 25 years and has spent more than 20 years helping hospitals and clinics “make IT work better”. Phil has had the opportunity to act as an Interim CIO for numerous hospitals which gives him a unique perspective on their challenges and associated solutions. Phil really enjoys sharing lessons learned and frequently presents at various hospital associations, HIMSS events and healthcare board rooms all over the country. In addition to his passion for improving Health IT, he loves baseball (die hard Cubs fan) and has spent more than 15 years coaching young baseball players. Phil lives in Pella, IA and often shares concepts learned from his background in coaching along with the Dutch farm culture and work ethic that his home town is known for.