May 4, 2023 | 6 minute

Establishing an Integrated Data Framework to Digitize the Patient Journey

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Table of contents:

Establishing an integrated data framework – Digital Transformation Playbook for Health System Executives 2 of 3

In the first piece of this series we discussed the history of technology investments in healthcare, or, more precisely, the lack of investment in acute care operations (with the possible exception of EMR) or the care delivery process as a whole. We looked at how low operating margins, post-pandemic labor shortage, and new demanding customers of the digital era are coming together to create urgency and drive change.

Given this reality, we expect to see health systems across the country hiring new “people experience” officers, CEOs adopting consumer market terminology like “the customer journey”, and department heads across the care delivery process scrambling to launch innovative initiatives.

In my opinion, this is exactly what is taking place, in some cases, using an informed, comprehensive, and “industry-leading” approach. But on other occasions, rushed projects, innovative yet often disjointed, tackle either efficiency or quality in an uncoordinated way. The results are disappointing—when positive change is so much in need today.

In this post, we propose a cohesive approach to healthcare digital transformation—one that is pragmatic, systematic, and useful for you in navigating the change.

I want to start by taking us back to the 1990s when the analyst firm Gartner identified a new market category in software—Enterprise Resources Planning or ERP—when Oracle and SAP started to offer a new bundle of software. Prior to that, companies were buying separate software for HR, inventory management, customer relations, supply chain, and warehouse management, which worked independently. Data was siloed and departments operated in a disjointed way. Sound familiar?

The core value proposition of companies like SAP was simple: to standardize data format and interfaces, bring together all corners of the enterprise into a central place, and inform actions by providing a comprehensive view of how the business is operating. ERP gave executives a new tool to better manage the business.

Similar to businesses before ERP was invented, today’s health systems are suffering from disjointed operations and data silos. So how can you use this framework to drive healthcare digital transformation for accessibility and integration?   

Establish core benchmarks

The first step in this journey of digital transformation is to establish core benchmarks we want to measure and optimize against. To that end, I would like to introduce a two-vector system: Operating Efficiency and Operating Quality, where quality unfolds the concept of experience—the subjective measure of quality. Trying to solve the first challenge without balancing the second, as many organizations have experienced, is at risk of failing, with only marginal benefit at best.

Let’s look at a common example: reducing wastefulness in medical device over-purchase. We’ve seen approximately 30% over-purchase of infusion pumps, the most frequently used medical device by acute care providers. Eliminating excess  inventory without  mechanisms that can forecast equipment demand and a ‘digital concierge’ service that makes sure nurses can find IV pumps whenever they need them, will only lead to negative quality impact and a shift of waste from one area to another. In an ad-hoc survey done by a national health system, a provider found that nurses were spending 40 minutes per shift hunting for the equipment they need to deliver care to their patients. At times, we meet providers who identify these examples as problems rather than symptoms and witness firsthand how implementing solutions without the right framework simply shifts waste across departments, lowers the overall quality, and as a result, becomes abandoned over time.

With a framework in place, we can now draw from the ERP example and establish the two most important things:

  • Understanding what it is we know—or mapping the data and then bringing it all into one place.
  • Making sure it is standard in that it is complete and well understood. Practically everyone can talk to each other and interfaces are standardized and accessible.

Before, this would have been simply an unrealistic expectation, and any possible solution would have required many vendors, as was the case in the 1990s. Today’s cloud technology allows us to overcome these problems by selecting the right open architecture and ensuring cohesiveness of interfaces within one integrated platform.

A useful treasure map for data hunters looks like this: 

  • Start with equipment: An easy starting point, this domain offers quick and plentiful savings coupled with fast quality improvements. Look for capital assets on wheels and prioritize what has a direct impact on care delivery workflow. For example, without a bed, a patient can not be admitted.
  • Then look at the space: Care is delivered in buildings and you will want to understand how space is designated, referred to, and characterized by your stakeholders. Using the same example, without an exam room available, an ED nurse would not be well positioned to provide care to an urgent patient.
  • Staff is at the heart of care. To characterize the data we go after, we must consider staff both as individuals and role players in a care workflow. Understanding parameters such as time spent at the bedside may expose and help relieve bottlenecks, and improve both efficiency and individual experience. Personal safety is a subjective experience measure which maps to a provider’s ability to predict and preempt security incidents from happening, or at least mitigate the impact of such events by using predictive analytics.
  • Last but not least, launch patient analytics. Although much about a patient is already known from the EMR, the synchronization of the clinical data and the operational functions of care delivery is the weakest chain in current models. The data you are looking to complete in this step places the patient in the context of clinical space, staff, medical equipment, and processes.

Use data!

It is wondrous how systematically and holistically marketers understand the customer journey. Products like Google Analytics allow us to see every view, click, engagement, and other behaviors while browsing our websites. Ultimately, the data exercise outlined above should place you in a similarly advantageous position to systematically and holistically understand the patient’s journey through the care delivery process. By doing that, you are placing patient in the context of clinical space, staff, medical device, and processes.

In this post, we established a digital transformation framework to optimize efficiency and quality. We also covered data collection, capturing what had not existed or been enriched. Lastly, we placed all that data in a central location and made it readily accessible. The next post will tackle the use case hierarchy—how to identify, prioritize, and deploy digital transformation initiatives.

Download our Digital Transformation in Hospitals Whitepaper and learn how Smart Hospital Solutions are delivering better clinical outcomes, greater efficiencies, and higher patient satisfaction through digital transformation using technologies like Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

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