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Bring your healthcare organization up to speed with enterprise workflow

Aaron Vaught, Director Marketing FormFast
Written by: Aaron Vaught

Operational excellence has never been more important in the healthcare industry than it is today. A number of external factors, including increased quality requirements and lower reimbursements, are driving the imperative for efficiency across the entire healthcare organization. 

As a result, healthcare organizations (HCOs) are embracing workflow technologies to promote collaboration, operational efficiency, standardization and transparency (COST). However, roadblocks often exist for organizations in their aim to improve COST within their data collection and workflow strategies – especially in non-clinical areas.

HCOs collect, store and exchange a tremendous amount of data, which can lead to inevitable difficulties with data collection and workflow. There are a few other reasons that inefficiencies in non-clinical departments occur:

1. Some electronic documentation and workflow improvement initiatives are limited to clinical processes.

2. There are shortcomings in administrative workflow areas such as Finance, Supply Chain, Human Resources, and Risk Management. As a result, workflow snags causing poor performance in one area can impact other departments and the organization as a whole.

The path to a successful strategy begins when HCOs support COST improvement in all departments, clinical and non-clinical alike. To fully realize COST savings and accomplish streamlined workflow, leadership should commit to a system-wide, enterprise strategy. This can be accomplished if organizations implement an enterprise electronic forms (eForms) and workflow strategy.

An enterprise strategy encourages interdepartmental collaboration, automation, standardization of terminology and technology system-wide, and transparency across the organization. In addition, an eForm and workflow strategy can eliminate manual processes, and free up staff time for departments already required to do more with fewer resources.

Let’s explore four examples of how non-clinical departments can use COST to proactively remove bottlenecks in a unified enterprise eForm and workflow improvement strategy.

Collaboration in Supply Chain
From capital supply requests, to medical supplies on the nursing floor, to office essentials – every department within a hospital has a request and approval process to get necessary supplies. Oftentimes, this is a paper form that gets filled out, scanned and routed manually – making its way through the process at a snail’s pace.

Supply chain processes involve a high level of collaboration among various stakeholders. This is especially true in cases of a large capital expense. These cases require multiple sign-offs and a highly-detailed tracking process. Let’s look at the example of an expansion wing at a hospital. In this case, specific documentation outlining all the materials and supplies needed for the entire wing, must be included in various stages of the approval workflow. For a project of this importance and expense, each stage of this process will usually require a signature from an authorized staff member. In a process that relies on paper, these necessary documents are spread out across various systems – slowing down the process, causing bottlenecks and ultimately, inaccurate information or unauthorized requests getting approved.

This is an estimated eight step process for each person involved in the workflow that could easily be shrunk down to one with eForms and electronic signature capabilities. With eForm technology, supply chain professionals can collect, share and act faster to ensure all departments get the materials they need to perform their jobs in a timely manner.

With automation, interdepartmental collaboration can be enhanced and greatly accelerated, and a new level of accountability is established do due robust reporting features. This can help supply chain professionals focus on what is really important – gaining deeper visibility and insight into the supply needs of the organization.

Operational Efficiency in Human Resources
According to the 2014 Annual Healthcare HR Initiatives Survey from The American Society for Healthcare Human Resources Administration (ASHHRA), 74 percent of healthcare talent management professionals surveyed are looking to streamline their HR processes to help increase efficiency and reduce costs.

Human resources touches every department – and more specifically, every employee – within a hospital. As a result, inefficiencies in human resources can have a ripple effect throughout an entire organization. HR leaders want to focus more on positive workplace engagement, safety and satisfaction; and less on time-consuming administrative workflows, such as employing coaching, rounding, change of status, inquiries, evaluations, credentialing and policy management.

With an enterprise workflow automation platform, human resource leaders can customize processes and dashboards for critical activities, such as onboarding, throughout the organization. They can then handle requirements needed from each employee (from physicians to executives) via workflow rules, reportable completion data, dashboards and alerts that provide an extra level of accountability and visibility.

With an end-to-end workflow automation solution, managing the entire employment lifecycle is easier. HR can take a higher level approach to meeting compliance needs, strategic staffing initiatives and relieving staff from the burdens of administrative paperwork. The ability to streamline the collection and reuse data brings a new level of consistency and reinforces policies, without adding more time-intensive overhead tasks for HR personnel and the entire hospital staff.

Standardization in Risk Management
Quality and risk managers are concerned with improving patient safety and reducing liability. This starts with the collection of accurate and useful data in a standardized format. Risk and quality leaders find that eForms provide a perfect way to collect and share the data they need instantly from anywhere in the organization.

With eForms, documents such as incident reports can be completed electronically, organized and properly submitted via an identified workflow process. Likewise, electronic surveys, such as patient satisfaction surveys, can be appropriately reviewed and analyzed in a timely manner.

Whether planned, or in some cases unplanned, downtime does occur in healthcare organizations. When a hospital’s EHR or HIS system is down, eForms can ensure business, and most importantly care, proceed. A downtime eForm solution allows you to continue to register patients, collect medical and demographic information, and ensure a smooth clinical workflow.
Streamlining accreditation workflow is also vital to improving clinical outcomes, patient safety and risk management. Maintaining access to current documentation and assuring that staff members are aware of changes is a vital role of risk managers, and workflow automation is a core component not only to improving operations, but reducing risk.

Transparency in Finance
Financial processes are critical to improving both clinical and business outcomes. But all too often, financial documents – such as expense request and invoices – can float from desk to desk, department to department, or get stuck in an unsecure, overflowing mail room without clarity of their origin or due date. With increasing volumes of time-sensitive invoices and rewards for timely processing, improving the handling of incoming invoices can reap great benefits for an organization.

Additionally, the flow of patient information (from admission, to treatment, to discharge) is a critical factor in providing efficient billing for services rendered during a patient’s visit. A patient’s complete care journey requires data from many different departments to ensure finance has the appropriate information to move forward with revenue cycle processes.

Having a simple and effective workflow makes an organization more proactive and the entire revenue cycle smoother. When electronic workflow is leveraged in finance departments, requisitions, contract management, invoice processing, coding and other critical processes are streamlined and made more secure. This also enables hospital leaders to collect and gain deeper insight into the financial data that is critical to making sound fiscal decisions.

Eliminating Departmental Information Silos
While technology has helped automate workflows and critical processes, it has also created disconnected information silos. Many organizations rely on complex arrangements of department-specific systems that were never designed to work together in the first place.

Due to important initiatives, such as ICD-10 and Meaningful Use, in some cases, the departments listed above may not have had the resources needed to focus on cost and time saving initiatives. However, document workflow problems at HCOs are more than just a headache confined to one department. They can threaten a hospital’s overall profitability and performance, and should therefore be considered a high priority.

Action Items
HCOs can now modernize the healthcare enterprise using three steps and experience the countless benefits of a streamlined documentation and workflow process.

  1. Commit to a system-wide, enterprise eForm strategy.
  2. Establish measurable goals to remove non-value added tasks, saving time and resources.
  3. Proactively remove documentation and workflow bottlenecks through collaboration, operational efficiency, standardization and transparency (COST) in all departments.

Now is the time for hospital leaders, including IT directors, COO’s, CFO’s and other key health leaders to review their information management, workflow strategies and technology systems. The solution to these problems involves forming a holistic view of the enterprise and its needs. This begins and ends with the alignment of business and IT goals.

IT directors would appreciate the benefits that come with managing one system across the enterprise; COO’s appreciate the operational efficiency, consistent training and adoption benefits it brings; and CFO’s would appreciate controlling cost by investing in a single, yet dynamic platform.

As both healthcare staff and patients alike, expect processes to be faster, smarter and leaner – HCOs that adapt an enterprise mindset to selecting workflow automation software, will be the ones that are positioned for healthy document workflow processes today and well into the future.