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Government Mandates and Process Improvement

Published August 7, 2012 10:41 AM by Rebecca Hepp

Editor's note: This blog was written by Rob Harding, president and CEO of FormFast, a top-ranked provider of electronic workflow solutions. FormFast serves more than 850 hospitals internationally with easy-to-use software that helps healthcare organizations accelerate their progression from time-consuming manual processes to fully automated workflows.

It should not be a surprise to anyone that the healthcare industry is in a period of tremendous change. From stage 2 of meaningful use to changes to the fee-for-service model and everything in between, the laundry list of legislative mandates to be met can be daunting. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel — increased efficiency, cost reductions and quality improvement.

Although the end-game of these changes is unquestionably desirable, factors of meaningful use and other components of healthcare reform represent a significant resource drain on healthcare organizations, causing hesitancy among some IT leaders. This has led to some executives adopting a reactionary strategy that addresses issues as they arise, which ultimately is a temporary and costly solution to a reoccurring problem. Some hospitals, instead, are working toward process improvement goals that fit into their long term IT strategies in lieu of immediate responses to larger legislative mandates. At first glance this strategy may seem counterproductive, as many provisions of HITECH and PPACA impose penalties for non-compliance.

Upon closer examination, however, it appears that both process improvement strategies and legislative mandates work toward the same goals of increased efficiency, a reduction in cost and improved quality and patient safety.

A Hybrid Approach

Instead of pursuing only a process improvement strategy or meeting, say, meaningful use requirements, a hybrid approach to technology implementation may be more productive and help hospitals reach goals more quickly. Rather than address each legislative mandate individually, many executives should consider pursuing process improvement tactics to complement the changes they are already making to meet healthcare reform requirements. In fact, the expected outcomes of process improvement — increased profits and performance and reduced costs — are in sync with the goals of EHR implementation and information exchange. Considering the overlap, a hybrid approach represents a viable long-term strategy for handling the many requirements and measures outlined by healthcare legislation.

There is no way of getting around it; healthcare costs are skyrocketing. Executives are scrambling to live up to business and technological demands while simultaneously working to address legislative mandates. But, regardless of stressors, the adoption of new technologies and streamlining workflow processes represents a recipe for success. What it comes down to is that progressive organizations that already have effective process improvement strategies in place are much better positioned to meet the requirements of stages 1 and 2 meaningful use, for example.

Hospitals taking a mandate-oriented strategy may be implementing technologies as needed, rather than proactively improving enterprise-wide operations that will facilitate required government changes. For example, many institutions are still dependent on paper-based systems to handle processes such as patient registration or RAC audit reviews. As a result, workflow is impeded and the revenue cycle is negatively affected due to problems such as human error, lack of tracking capabilities, incomplete data and compromised security. Overall, it is an inefficient system that leads to bottlenecks throughout an organization.

Forward thinking hospitals have taken a proactive approach to streamlining their practices by adopting technologies for process improvement sooner rather than later. Workflow automation technologies are one component of such a strategy that can be foundational to other tools, such as an EHR system. With electronic workflows in place:

·         data only needs to be entered once and secured at a central location, allowing instant multiple access points to all relevant parties;

·         electronic signatures are utilized to speed up approval processes; and

·         critical information can be stored automatically allowing for real time data tracking.

By adopting a hybrid, healthcare executives immediately improve communication workflow processes and the benefits are experienced throughout the organization. Patients receive a higher level of care supported by back-end technology, and the hospitals capitalize on the type of business efficiency that can have a meaningful, positive impact on cost.

Process Improvement Technologies Serve as a Strong Foundation

A hospital that quickly adopts a system to streamline its workflow processes not only gains the benefits of increased efficiency, quality and savings, but is also in a better position to achieve compliance with legislative mandates. Simply put, the organization that has invested in and committed to process improvement strategies can quickly adapt to the proposed rules of stage 1 and 2 meaningful use regulations and earn the incentives from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) faster and with less cost than a hospital starting from scratch.

Some of the healthcare system transformations are straightforward, but some may emerge in the coming years. Hospital leaders should design their approaches to not only meet legislative requirements, but to run a flexible and more efficient business. With the right strategy in place, meeting various government mandates can be a smooth and cost effective process that can be a competitive advantage for any healthcare organization.

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