By Joerg Schwarz
Healthcare was already challenged to keep up with the longer-term trend of a changing business environment, but the COVID-19 pandemic has created even more financial burden. It has never been more difficult to recruit and retain clinical staff. After two years of the pandemic, many staff are suffering from burnout and fatigue. Furthermore, securing additional staff to alleviate burnout is costly, and employee onboarding can take weeks or months.
Finding the right business model to support the clinical mission among these challenges is critical but highly challenging. Enhanced use of data and data analytics, however, can help address these challenges both short and long term. Here are the three things healthcare executives should prioritize in 2022.
First, utilize data analysis in recruiting and retaining critical talent. Retaining talent by using data has multiple aspects. One is to look for warning signs that employees are not engaged by identifying exit predictors that require targeted action, such as offering education and specialization credits. If employees quit seeking new challenges, it will behoove organizations to offer challenging opportunities that can re-engage staff. Another aspect is avoiding data entry burdens whenever possible. Care providers want to provide care, not use their time entering data into computers. Therefore, any opportunity to make technology “ambient” is also an opportunity to decrease burnout and increase retention. For example, organizations can utilize clinical data to replenish supplies instead of requiring dual data entry, or record a patient interaction and transcribe it in the background for documentation purposes. All of this requires modern interoperability between traditional systems like electronic health records (EHR) and electronic medical records, as well as modern tools that analyze data patterns or process natural language through artificial intelligence and machine learning. While innovation diffusion has traditionally been slow in the healthcare industry, now is the time to crank up the velocity. Many organizations have innovated at unprecedented rates in 2020 and 2021—let’s keep that momentum going.
Second, use data from different systems to calculate the exact cost of delivering clinical services. In a healthcare business environment where risk-based contracts and value-based care are growing steadily, it is important to understand exactly how much time each care provider spends with a patient and the associated cost of spending that time (keeping in mind the burnout reduction goal outlined earlier). By connecting workforce management, supply chain, and financial systems with clinical systems, underscored with location-based intelligence technology, health systems can calculate the exact cost for delivering care to a patient, DRG, or service line—critical insight when funding is tight. Without further burdening care providers, activity-based cost analysis allows a system to pinpoint the root cause of cost overruns and opens opportunities to contract for bundled payments in areas where care can be delivered efficiently. When there are limited opportunities to increase top-line revenue through elective procedures, focusing on the bottom-line cost is essential.
Third, utilize technology to deliver care differently, in different places, and to expand business opportunities in the process. During the heights of the pandemic, many people were forced to change the way they work, learn, and shop. Let’s use this opportunity and momentum to also change the way care is delivered, for example with tele- or virtual visits over videoconferencing platforms. Let’s expand the capacity of the hospital by delivering care at home when appropriate. In addition, let’s collect data continuously and remotely to keep patients healthy and Healthcare Effectiveness Data Information Set (HEDIS) scores high.
These are ways to increase revenue, even in challenging times, and simultaneously deliver on the clinical mission. Nowadays, it should not be necessary to maintain large call centers when many patients prefer to schedule appointments online. With this in mind, let’s create a single entry point and allow patients to schedule an appointment with their primary care provider or a follow-up imaging procedure from their computer or phone. With advances in biometric monitoring, which allows affordable consumer fitness devices to unobtrusively measure blood pressure and oxygenation, it is now possible to collect vast amounts of data from heart patients, utilize analytics to filter noise, identify patterns, and take proactive action—such as asking a patient to call for a consultation when necessary. Why should a patient come for a visit when nothing is wrong? Isn’t it better to measure biometrics 24 times a day rather than once every quarter? This intelligent, proactive care delivery keeps patients out of the emergency room and allows healthcare organizations to score (HEDIS) in value-based care contracts: a win for patients, payers, and providers. Organizations are experimenting with hospital at home care delivery as they face both the challenges and promises of this model. On one hand, it is challenging to schedule resources outside of the hospital, monitor patients, and intervene in a timely manner. On the other hand, some providers might prefer delivering care at a patient’s home. Today, devices can constantly monitor the patient and securely transmit gathered data into the home EHR, and algorithms can monitor the data and proactively schedule interventions or checkups.
Overall, today’s healthcare industry faces many challenges but also many opportunities. Data and data analysis can help us tackle many of these challenges. We can take this opportunity and make significant progress in improving patient care over the next few years rather than over the next decade.
Joerg Schwarz is director of healthcare interoperability at Infor.