Case Study: Productivity Gains at St. Clare's Health System
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The health care industry has been a focal point in the pursuit of enhancing operational efficiency. The complex nature of the industry, its diverse technologies, procedures, medicines and facilities to diagnose and treat individuals of all demographic and physical make-ups in a setting of ever-rising costs add up to a formidable and complex task. Management at Saint Clare's Health System was not dissuaded as they sought to improve their business of providing patients with high quality treatment and care more efficiently.
Saint Clare's Health System is comprised of four hospitals and more than 3,000 personnel who provide care across a spectrum of patient needs such as behavioral health, cardiovascular, diabetes and dialysis. Management identified procedures in selected operations, the efficiency of which could be enhanced through the utilization of information technologies. More specifically, Saint Clare's sought to generate more robust information resources from digitizing activities in certain treatment and care procedures. The organization realized that there was a source of valuable information in existing paper documents, charts and general treatment activities that could provide enhanced intelligence about the effectiveness of treatment procedures for patients. By transforming paper and procedural activity inputs into data resources, they could enhance efficiency by mitigating lost information, increase productivity of care providing personnel, better identify areas for improvement of care procedures and, ultimately, enhance the quality of care for patients. Areas involving data assets include medical reports, nursing documentation, medical administrative records, radiology information and pharmacy information.
Secrets to Success
The best technological platform and the most ingenious data-based strategy cannot yield positive results without proper implementation guidelines and organizational buy-in by stakeholders of the system. Essential implementation guidelines on the technology side in this case included an invited RFP process to system vendors and an open forum of internal hospital users and stakeholders to gain a feel of the corresponding technology's functionality. Once the right platform was selected, formal and extensive training was conducted to ease the system into real-time usage. A true measure of success in increasing efficiency from system implementation doesn't revolve around technology functionality alone; it arises from continued usage by all hospital stakeholders and adoption of the system as an integral tool supporting everyday treatment activities. To achieve this, the organization launched a cultural change strategy that promoted use of the system to work smarter and more efficiently by leveraging its resources. So far, the results have been a success and the organization has experienced positive outcomes on a number of fronts.
Sources of Efficiency Gains
The IT platform enabled Saint Clare's to enhance efficiency in the short run by mitigating the potential risk of lost information (e.g. paper documents, charts, reports), which often plague paper-based environments. By storing existing documents and initiating the ongoing input of procedural data, Saint Clare's created a more reliable method to organize, archive and access information. Other gains include reducing the time for nursing staff to complete required paperwork, document vital treatment information for patients and to access past treatment information. The information download process has been enhanced by a user friendly input interface, which also promotes a coherent, standardized database of treatment-related activities. Reduction in data access and downloading time from the previous paper report environment has increased the time available for nurses to concentrate on patient care. That's a classic case of increased productivity-accomplishing the same task in less time and increasing available employee time to address other tasks where the level of quality of each is increased. It is worthy to also consider future productivity gains that result from a more empowered, motivated worker. Nurses at St. Clare's have commented that they view the new system as a means to save time and a tool for effective information storage, creation and overall management.
"Patient Treatment" Intelligence
One of the most promising gains to efficiency lies in the ability to analyze the data that describes the treatment and care processes supported by the system. By transforming existing paper information into digital form and systematizing current and future procedure (treatment) information, Saint Clare's is creating building blocks to perform more advanced analytics of patient care activities. Systematizing data enables users to more effectively analyze data elements in a logical, coherent manner. When compared to reading hundreds of paper reports and charts in order to formulate trends in patient response to treatments, the system effect provides the capability to identify and view trends over time. This applies to patient treatment outcomes and also to the effectiveness of treatment types across a variety of patients. The accessibility of more descriptive, coherent and timely reports and graphics gives doctors, nurses and hospital staff enhanced treatment intelligence.
Positive returns from BI are generally achieved over time as data resources grow and develop and as new software applications augment data analysis. Increased usage of BI enabled by higher quality information can assist treatment providers in better understanding treatment procedures, outcomes and care for patients. With the establishment of an effective information management system and through the use of digital infrastructure, the implications for long-term efficiency gains through enhanced analytics and business (treatment) intelligence are far-reaching.
The author wishes to extend special thanks to Richard Temple (CIO of Saint Clare's Health System) and Michael Burke (Director of Applications) for their help on this project.