Calling Healthcare CFOs: The equal importance of less tangible ROI

By Jim Kelley, Vice President Finance, Advocate Lutheran General Hospital and Advocate Children’s Hospital  /  03 Sep 2013

When it comes to healthcare technology, hospitals and health systems are challenged to choose solutions that improve care quality and efficiency, but aren’t a detriment to the bottom line to implement and maintain. There are abundant technology projects to tackle – from striving toward meaningful use, to complying with HIPAA regulations, to addressing the impact of ICD-10 – but as a healthcare CFO, I can attest to the fact that often times, those that show the best ROI dollar signs are the projects I prioritize. However, more frequently I’m learning that improvements to care quality, patient safety and physician satisfaction may not be as easily quantified, but can be even more impactful to the system as a whole.

One example of this is addressing inefficiencies in how clinicians communicate with one another. Improving clinical communications – both by evaluating the workflow and by implementing technology to improve that workflow – can drive a number of unexpected returns that are valuable to the system:

  • Gaining buy-in from physicians: At Advocate Lutheran, we decided to invest in a clinician-to-clinician communications platform to improve the workplace because we wanted to create the best place for physicians to practice. We noticed that our clinicians – many of whom worked at multiple facilities in the community – were frustrated with the time and resources that went into trying to communicate with each other. While unhappy clinicians naturally impacted the work environment, we also noticed that the lack of communications was hampering our ability to attract high quality clinical talent, and in turn, remain competitive. Implementing a clinical communications platform not only improved physician satisfaction and retention, but we also started seeing recognition for our improvements through multiple national awards for quality and service.
  • Focusing on care over processes: Communications breakdowns create bottlenecks in workflow, but in a patient-centered and time-sensitive model, this is something we can’t afford. Implementing a comprehensive clinical communications strategy helped reduce the number of calls coming through our switchboard by nearly 40 percent. This meant that our clinicians were spending less time chasing each other and more time on patient care.
  • Standardizing clinical communications: Today, for most health systems, networks of care have expanded faster than the communications strategies to support them. As we head towards healthcare reform, care coordination – in a timely and accurate manner – will be a critical part of delivering patient care. Standardizing on one clinical communications strategy for the entire organization means that primary care physicians trying to consult with specialists follow the same communications processes as a clinician transitioning care from one facility or department to the next. Everyone involved with a patient’s care stays better informed.

Investing in enabling technology such as clinical communications impacts virtually all work processes and groups across the organization and is critical to improving safety, quality and service – key performance indicators for any healthcare organization.

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