Why Healthcare CIOs need the Digital Real-Time Health System?

Abhinav Shashank
Wed 14 November 2018

Automating devices and processes has yielded exponential savings in hundreds of sectors now. Dozens of manual processes and old-fashioned communication have become old news with automation.

And if any industry that needs, or rather, demands quicker, more efficient processes, it’s healthcare. Yet, healthcare continues to be mercurial in its adoption of automation and AI. We’re talking about potentially labor-saving and cost-saving technology, that is estimated to be a $10 billion industry by 2024 in healthcare alone. To put things in perspective, healthcare in the US alone represents 17.8% of the GDP- and the global number is a little smaller at 10%. Why does healthcare continue to lag behind the rest of the world?

Why has healthcare been slow in its adoption of automation?

For one reason, there was no urgency. Competitive pressures didn’t really exist in healthcare, so the challenge of wringing out incremental savings in labor was put on back burner. But healthcare margins now translate into performance for providers, and as many value-based contracts depend partially on efficiency, healthcare providers need to improve how they run processes.

Second, is the problem of data consolidation. Although a major chunk of healthcare data has been digitized, it’s usually stored in legacy systems, under different formats which make collaboration difficult. For almost a decade and a half, healthcare organizations were encouraged to digitize their healthcare data. And when they did, there were proprietary tools that did not have the flexibility that is essential in today’s healthcare landscape. The silos render information less useful than they could be. 95% of providers believe that the lack of seamless data exchange limits their ability to transfer data across the network.

Third, healthcare professionals are concerned about the impact automation will have on healthcare. After all, it is primarily a human-centered sector and should remain so. Patients value the contact they have with their providers, and there is a worry that automation of processes may make healthcare seem cold and distant.

A change on the horizon

The worry behind automation in healthcare may have a sliver of validity- some patients prefer human contact when they make appointments or visit their provider. But as hospitals nationally are under tremendous pressure to improve reimbursements and deal with cost pressures, they are finding ways to improve their productivity and efficiency.

Additionally, although there may be some validity to the worry that automating healthcare may make the field cold and distant, there is a change in how patients view it. Younger patients have been known to skew in a different direction.

According to a survey, conducted on patients under 40, they found that:

  • 92% expect to have full two-way electronic communication with their providers
  • 83% expect to be able to access all their patient information online, as they do their bank accounts
  • 78% expect to have total access to family members’ inpatient charts and be able to participate in rounds virtually
  • 71% expect providers to have online scheduling and offer them the ability to compare rates by 2018
  • 65% expect to discuss health-related topics and compare providers via social media.

These facts above paint a very clear picture: younger patients want a more digital experience of care. They expect data to be delivered at their fingertips, and automation can deliver the kind of service they want.

Not to mention how automaton increases the amount of time healthcare providers have for their patients for a direct interaction- which also gives them the ability to manage more patients. All in all, automation- full or partial- of different processes can be a productive tool for healthcare organizations.

The first steps?

Many healthcare leaders would agree that labor-saving technology and techniques would be one avenue, to begin with, when it comes to automation.

The 2016 CAQH Index report reveals that the administrative costs of manually-driven processes such as closing data gaps, allocating resources, prior authorizations, and other utilization management processes consume nearly $300 billion a year. That’s about 15% of all healthcare expenditures!

Both payers and providers spend a great deal of time approving requests or feeding data manually or reviewing them. The media remains phones, fax, and even postal mail, which leads to greater inefficiencies and administrative burdens, lower reimbursements, and even unnecessary delays in patient care. For healthcare’s shift to value-based care, healthcare organizations need to modify their daily workflows with automation and technology integration.

Envisioning automation in healthcare

The first thing we need to understand is that it’s no longer wise to have different applications for different purposes. Isolating applications, systems, and technologies have to be eliminated to bring integration and interoperability into the picture.

Next, healthcare organizations that are developing some technology-enabled strategies should focus on the real-time availability of data. With the necessary interoperability and data-sharing capabilities, leaders can develop a real-time health system (RTHS).

Gartner defines real-time health system to be “a healthcare-provider specific, loosely-coupled, service-oriented architecture that delivers the IT capabilities required for enabling digital capabilities, such as digital care delivery, real-time administration or advanced consumer engagement.”

In simple terms, a real-time health system would be an extensible and agile architecture that can improve as healthcare evolves and satisfies digital business and care delivery. A real-time health system is one of the basic forms of automation in healthcare that can provide the necessary support for real-time decision-making, intelligent operations, and efficient care delivery. The ability to act on insights at the right time is what would define a health system’s ability to leverage data into value.

Automation within a real-time health system

To succeed in meeting the challenges of an evolving healthcare, there should be some key elements in developing an automation strategy:

  • Real-time analytics

    Data and analytics serve as the foundation of value-based care. Data is collected every day in healthcare, but it is hardly integrated together which is essential to deriving insights. Finding relevant information from disparate data sources would assist healthcare providers in correlating situations with insights and take their best steps forward.

    And equally, these insights must be accessible to the user- be it a doctor, a nurse, or any stakeholder to help them make critical decisions faster and improve their efficiency. Analytics would be key in creating strategies to manage resource utilization, clinical outcomes monitoring, and revenue capture for a health system.  
  • Data-driven care delivery:

    Decision-making based on real-time insights would be instrumental in finding care gaps and managing care better. Understanding the context of a medical situation would enable AI-assisted treatment and care management.

    Additionally, data could be crucial in prioritizing patients and assigning them to the best care teams. Based on their risk scores or medical conditions, the patients could be assigned to health coaches. Or, could be given the resources that would aid their care along with tailor-made discharge planning and follow-ups.  
  • Intelligent operations: Health systems can develop strategies based on analyzed insights to understand the location and condition of devices, resources, and patient needs. Additionally, having an overview of inefficiencies in ER or OR could be essential in improving staff productivity and reducing patient wait times.

    Also, health systems can create a command center that delivers a holistic view of operations, resources, and activities to improve patient satisfaction and the cost of care. Alerts and notifications could also be sent to providers to notify them of any measurable improvements in their patient’s health, or any activity.

What should the Hospital Automation address?

There are three key areas that any strategy for hospital automation should address:

  • Operational efficiency

    Health systems can achieve operational efficiency by automating their processes and managing their assets. This includes improving internal logistics of mobile assets, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and other supplies along with enhancing people flow. Not only the efficiency would increase, but automation would also reduce the need for unnecessary capital expenditures by improving service-line utilizations, patient flow bottlenecks, and such.  
  • Clinical excellence

    Clinical excellence is all about solutions that assist providers in improving their work efficiency. It could also be associated with better patient outcomes by engaging them and monitoring their health. Automating processes like patient assignment and discharge planning while making sure they recover well can help health systems achieve clinical excellence.  
  • Patient experience of care 

Patient experience of care can be immensely improved by automating appointment scheduling and booking. Automation can also help in reducing the clutter in emergency departments or waiting rooms and improve the patient flow. Patients can be sent automated reminders for an upcoming appointment or notify them to get their prescriptions refilled. Providers can also remain in touch with their patients via remote monitoring and mHealth and connect with their patients on the fly.

Thinking automation first

Healthcare has lots of potential for cost and quality gains through automation, and it’s time healthcare leaders started thinking about automation before adding services or renovating. Value-based care depends immensely on how healthcare organizations control the cost of care. And unlike any other organization in any other sector, automating processes will allow healthcare organizations to focus their time and resources on their core mission- delivering excellent patient care at all time.


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