We frequently describe ActionCue Clinical Intelligence as redefining and facilitating the management process for quality-safety improvement. Understanding that taking on quality-safety improvement can bring some apprehension, we want to make clear that we do this to bring a radical increase in efficiency to the process of improving patient care delivery for clinical staff, managers and executives.
Whether a facility or system’s solutions for quality and safety management, tracking, and reporting consists of paper and Excel spreadsheets, internally developed systems, or commercial applications, most of those scenarios have something in common: They require clinical management to spend a good bit of time on manual work. This can include:
- Researching required performance measure definitions and their application within the facility
- Setting the structure of criteria, measures, reports, graphs and notifications within the system
- Entering, manipulating and checking data multiple times as it moves from safety tools and organizations to the quality management arena, and on to the places, tools, and people involved in performance improvement and management information systems
- Creating and executing the mechanisms for communication and collaborating with various staff to carry out multiple fractured workflow processes
- Producing forms, diagrams and other artifacts, the primary purpose of which is to demonstrate adherence to the chosen process and methodology
- Using additional tools, systems or steps to produce static reports in a variety of formats for management review meetings
- Revising and re-doing much of the above repeatedly in response to changing external reporting requirements, additional or revised inquiries, recurring meetings, staff turnover, etc.
It should be noted that in many cases, a good bit of that manual work could be done by administrative workers but is too interwoven in the clinical and quality-safety work to hand it off without major disruption in productivity. In other cases, it requires the clinical professionals to develop skills in information technology and data manipulation that should arguably not be required of them. Both of these instances seriously dilute the application of their best skills, education and professional abilities to improving quality-safety.
Unfortunately, many clinical managers and their senior management accept this kind of manual effort, and the resources it consumes, as the norm for working in quality, safety and improvement. Some believe it is the only way for solutions to work exactly as they want. Even by turning to multiple commercial software vendors, much of this same function building is required as the vendor happily customizes their product and charges significantly for it both upfront and on a continuous basis, while tying up hospital staff in planning and reviewing the customization. After-sale charges can even become the vendor’s primary business model. At Epic Systems’ User Group Meeting in September of 2016, CEO Judy Faulkner said she identifies Epic as a programming shop. The company spends just over 50 percent of operating expenses on research and development each year. With that perspective, how likely is it that such a vendor is going to make the application itself match the needs of its users, or reduce the work of installation, amount of training needed, or degree to which the vendor’s billable time is needed for ongoing administration and updates?
Costs that may be dispersed into the operating budget are often “hidden,” but really add up when considering the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) for the solution. Almost all of this fits into the “administrative overhead” component of healthcare costs, which is understood by most in the C-suite of hospitals today to be increasing disproportionately.
Once this “build our own” mentality sets in, inertia takes hold. It is common for quality and safety solution acquisitions to focus on one of these “toolkits,” or basic products needing customization that lasts months after purchase. Over time, the organization feels as if it has invested so much into their status quo solution that they certainly don’t want to make a substantial change and start the process all over again. This is especially true when it could impact the many overt work processes in which they have also invested time, money and training.
Many managers initiating searches for quality and safety management solutions may not realize that a well-designed “turnkey” application—embodying not only effective technology but also expertly-crafted healthcare operational design—can be configured in days, not months, to fit their organizations and operations, and similarly be reconfigured to match their evolving needs. While turnkey applications such as ActionCue may be uncommon in healthcare IT, distancing the organization from the practice of costly extensive internal or vendor-teamed software development is something companies in almost all other verticals have done over the years. Although this requires some adjustment in perspective when reviewing products designed for a large healthcare marketplace, the very common mentality of “doing what you’ve always done” is something healthcare providers can simply no longer afford.