Four questions to ask when diagnosing the health of workflow automation

June 19, 2015

Healthcare and ease don’t always go hand in hand. From insurance coverage to prescriptions, providers and patients often endure some heartburn on a not-so-infrequent basis. However, I’m pleased to say my last few visits to the doctor offered a noticeably more-seamless experience for both parties, and it’s all due in part to impeccably implemented workflow automation technology.

Just as fast as I could say “Ahhh,” my doctor sent dual notifications via his iPad to my insurance company and pharmacist. Simultaneously, the system set up my prescription to automatically renew and be delivered to my front door. Not only was this incredibly convenient for me, but it was also beneficial to my doctor from an efficiency standpoint. The less time he and his office spend on logistical forms pertaining to me, the more time they have to treat additional patients.

So why can’t all interactions related to healthcare be that positive? Given that not all processes are created equal, establishing healthy workflow automation takes total collaboration from all ends of the spectrum, including insurance providers, physicians, pharmacists, and patients.

As a healthcare provider, if your processes and solutions are causing more problems than they solve, it might be time for a checkup to diagnose the health of your workflow technology. Ask yourself the following questions, and be prepared for an honest gut check.

1. Does your workflow solution integrate well with others?

Ask any healthcare IT professional and they’ll tell you that one of the most important aspects of implementing and maintaining a healthy automated workflow system is ensuring its interoperability with other technologies or systems. If your workflow solution cannot access, interpret, or deliver data to other health information systems at your practice and beyond – think insurance companies, laboratories, pharmacies, and patients – it’s time to transition to something that does.

While it’s estimated that only 14 percent of office-based providers electronically share patient information with other providers, that number is expected to grow tremendously just within the next two years. In fact, HealthIT.gov shares that, by the end of 2017, it’s projected that the majority of individuals and providers will send, receive, find, and use a common set of clinical information.

With interoperability, automated workflows can alleviate the flawed method in which information is relayed to various parties involved in a patient’s care, and in certain situations that can be a lot. According to HealthIT.gov, generally a typical primary care physician has to coordinate care with 229 other physicians working in 117 other practices.

Additionally, workflows that are interoperable can improve care coordination and, according to a report from Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), that allows researchers to use data that originates in the ambulatory setting to investigate new methods of care delivery and personalized medicine.

2. Are you more accurate than error prone?

By and large, having quick access to new methods of care delivery and personalized medicine can be lifesaving. According to the Journal of Patient Safety, medical errors are approximately the third leading cause of death in the United States. If integrated properly, automated workflow solutions coupled with cloud-based enterprise resource planning (ERP) tools, can offer greater insight into a patient’s medical history and proactively improve patient care. Depending on the type of automatic workflow you’re leveraging, a series of checks can be put in place to review existing data on a patient and ensure that a physician’s plan for them is in fact the right path to take.

This is incredibly important when considering prescriptions. Consider this, a 70-year old patient may visit a variety of physicians and not recall all of their prescribed medications accurately. As a result, a serious risk for lethal adverse reactions could occur if a new physician doesn’t have quick and easy insight into what the patient is taking and whether what’s prescribed will work well with the medication currently taken by the patient.

In addition to eliminating human error and taking the guess work out of medical situations, workflow automation can also key-up notifications and reminders to assist physicians with things like ordering tests in a more timely manner and initiating follow ups with patients more regularly.

3. Is your workflow keeping up with compliance?

Not only is it important to gauge how your workflow automation is impacting the welfare of patients, but it’s also critical to understand whether or not it’s steering you toward compliance. Often it seems like there’s a new regulation each day. Keeping up with HIPAA, ICD-10, and OSHA, for example, requires attention and can be a full-time job if you’re lacking the right resources.

With healthy workflow automation, your practice could reduce risking its reputation and relationships with existing and future patients, which in turn reduces the risk to your bottom line. Like the consumer financial protection bureau (CFPB), the Office of Civil Rights (OCR), for example, will post full case studies on HIPAA compliance offenders online.

One particular HIPAA study discusses a mental health center that failed to provide notice of privacy practices to a father and his minor daughter, who was a patient at the center. The father complained and OCR intervened. While in theory, delivering information on privacy to a patient or a patient’s guardian is not difficult to do. If you don’t have workflow automation in place, or the particular process isn’t incorporated in your workflow automation, you run the risk of dropping the ball.

Similar to practices, health insurance providers also feel compliance pressures. In addition to federal regulations, insurance providers also have to keep in sync with continuously changing state regulations. When established properly, automated workflow technology can help providers become more proactive.

4. Are your processes as efficient as possible?

Another bonus of healthy workflow automation is the efficiency it delivers to healthcare professionals, insurance providers, and patients alike.

Take insurance companies for example. Workflow automation technology can help them monitor patient history and quickly report alternative healthcare solutions or new procedures to practices. Ultimately, this helps improve care and lower costs for patients.

On the practice side, workflow technology capabilities like automatically scheduling patient reminders for yearly exams and follow up appointments, as well as specialist recommendations and referrals can increase efficiency and patient satisfaction. Workflow automation can also help your practice with the patient billing process. For example, automatic billing notifications and reminders can free up practice administrators from focusing on collections, and enable them to spend more time delivering great care to their patients.

Conclusion

Ultimately, a healthy workflow automation solution will keep your practice operating smoothly and help meet your patient’s needs. If you’ve answered no to any of the above four questions, it’s time to look at fine-tuning or replacing your technology and processes. To recap, your workflow automation should deliver the following to your organization:

  • Interoperability. Your workflow automation solution should access, interpret, and deliver data to other health information systems at your practice and beyond – think insurance companies, laboratories, pharmacies, and patients.
  • Accuracy. The ability to gain greater insight in a patient’s medical history is vital to proactively improving patient care, and in some instances, even saving patient lives. Your automated workflow should allow you to establish a series of checks to help review existing data on a patient and ensure that your plan for them is safe.
  • Compliance. Keeping up with compliance is no easy task, which is why your workflow automation solution should enable you to stay in line with regulations. If your practice is constantly dropping the ball due to its continuing reliance on manual activity – providing critical forms to patients, for example – it’s time to revisit how your workflow automation is established and whether or not it can adapt based on your compliance needs.
  • Efficiency. Workflow automation technology should allow practices, insurance providers, and pharmacists to better communicate and work with one another. It’s important that the technology improves each entity’s efficiency as it ultimately improves patient satisfaction.

In the coming years, the reliance on workflow automation will only become greater as demands on healthcare providers to be more collaborative and streamlined grow. Now is the time to take a hard look at the processes and technology you have in place and determine if it is truly supporting you and supporting your patients the way it should.

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