For decades, I practiced and taught others a model of developing new software products in which the creator begins with at least two innovation concepts before thinking about technology choices, features or even architecture. These concepts must represent a new way to reach important objectives, not just tweak current tasks and activities. They must eliminate current hurdles and transcend problems. This model has proven to be the best way to ensure that the benefits of the product stem from fundamental values, are sustainable, provide room for growth, and build on an evergreen strategy.
In some cases, healthcare staff, management and executive IT users are hesitant to change the way they do things, but such changes have been proven to be the only way to make substantive progress. These innovative concepts are at the core of Prista’s ActionCue Clinical Intelligence platform, helping healthcare professionals reach real quality improvement goals that are fundamental in alleviating the operational, financial and regulatory issues with which hospital leaders wrestle every day. Even if hospital leaders believe the quality and safety activities in their organization are productive and successful, we believe those activities could be significantly more effective, positively impacting patient outcomes, revenue, staff workload, management and executive participation, and the culture of quality in the organization. The following are four ways healthcare organizations and management can advance healthcare quality and safety.
1. Shift focus toward goals instead of traditional activities
For individuals and organizations, doing “what we’ve always done” is comforting, pays respect to past decisions and accomplishments, and, importantly, avoids any risk in trying to improve by doing things differently. Some will focus on “risk” in that statement; others on “better.” Improvement, something we discuss often, inescapably means change, and the degree to which we avoid changes in process can systematically limit improvement. The tendency is to start rationalizing complacency and praising stability, solidarity and tradition.
The problem with the willingness to hold on to traditional activities manifests itself when organizations maintain the functional silos of Quality, Risk Management and Performance Improvement in hospitals. Whether individuals, groups or entire departments, tradition supports these institutions having different leaders, processes, tools, methodologies and data. With these functions compartmentalized, their objectives—and rewards—are limited to their respective stages of development instead of contributing to the overall goal of improvement. Simply reporting metrics and incidents is the finish line for some, while others carry on with other activities. This leads to dependence upon human endeavor to unify all those differences, in traditional mechanical ways, to serve the goal all healthcare organizations should be working toward: better patient care and outcomes delivered with efficiency.
The ActionCue application provides innovative consolidation of all performance metrics. No more silo-ing of core measures, audits, EOC, or protocols. Event reporting and investigation and improvement action plans are highly integrated. All data and information flows together and is readily accessible, enabling each task and activity to tie into performance improvement. Not only does this design serve the common goal better, it saves the staff, managers and executives a lot of time and mental exertion.
2. Own quality-safety improvement internally and make it efficient
Historically, most of a hospital quality department’s activities were focused on submitting data, reports and documents to external regulators and other stakeholders. A good portion of that information is intended for licensure/accreditation, long-term research and, especially in recent years, reimbursement. The aim in hospitals, typically among overworked managers, has become to “check the box” noting required submissions have been accomplished. Using the compiled information internally to improve quality and safety has become secondary to executives looking for checked boxes, and such perspectives tend to trickle down as real and perceived guidance. Yet, the return and yield from the submissions to those external organizations, in terms of enabling patient care improvement, is usually disappointing and always later than desired. With that view of comparative value, it is sometimes difficult for clinicians to remain motivated to genuinely improve quality and safety, and it’s equally difficult to get budgetary investment for innovative, efficient tools and processes as opposed to maintaining the traditional—and sub-optimal—activities and approaches.
ActionCue is far more than a reporting tool. It is a composite platform for the entire clinical staff, management and other stakeholders to work collaboratively and efficiently, while pursuing continuous improvement, which has long been little more than a slogan or buzzword. Its value in executive awareness and required reporting is exceptional. Users report a near elimination of “survey preparation” and surveyors from several states, as well as accreditors such as CIHQ, TJC and DNV, have commended its clarity, accessibility, accountability and demonstrated utilization and results.
3. Improve division of labor between humans and technology
Many healthcare IT users have come to understand that many applications are little more than an electronic filing cabinet, mostly utilized for storage and retrieval of information in the same format as that in which it was input. This places a burden on staff to compile commonly used information, perform calculations, and turn raw data into intelligence and insight. For a long time, organizations’ leaders have accepted that quality and safety efforts require a large amount of time and effort in mundane process mechanics. Applications serving important enterprise functions should focus on collaboration and workflows that not only match the natural tasks and processes of users, but also shape the users’ behavior by embodying methodologies and disciplines that yield the targeted results with efficiency and accountability.
Additionally, when the application is designed to partner with the user in his or her work through well-known, disciplined workflows, it can provide valuable, relevant, up-to-date content in the context of the task at hand, such as researched industry and academic performance measures, evolving best practices, educational materials, forms, contact information and a wealth of other materials the user, or the user’s work group, no longer have to spend time researching, compiling and updating. This sort of sophisticated, enabling design should become commonplace in healthcare IT applications, as it has been for decades in other fields.
ActionCue’s design goes beyond ease-of-use to advance the way in which healthcare organizations engage with information in an application. The platform proves to be an enjoyable working team member, increasing productivity and facilitating education and improvement towards goals. ActionCue users develop and maintain a strong “Culture of Quality.
4. Opt for a turnkey application utilizing a SaaS model
The technology used to support hospitals’ important quality and safety work usually starts out as a “toolkit” in which the organization invests a lot of time, money and attention to build and maintain the intended “solution.” Ranging from paper and Excel spreadsheets, to internally developed tools and applications, to major commercial systems that undergo extensive customization by their vendors and “add-on” technicians and analysts, healthcare organizations spend a lot of money and resources—often incrementally staffing consultants and specialists— to get the job done. Despite the high costs, many organizations believe such an approach is the only one that will work, and it is often based largely on what they have used historically. In such a setting, real innovation is rare and very expensive.
When an application provider has utilized healthcare expertise in its core design, delivery and support functions, it can anticipate a great deal of the functionality needed by its users and apply best practices to deliver a “turnkey application,” ready to run right after the sale. Foregoing full customization can be readily accepted as a trade-off for saving tens of thousands of dollars (or more) in visible and hidden costs. Turnkey applications also frequently have value-adding content that is continuously researched and updated, providing constant improvement in the use of the application. Setting a high bar when reviewing turnkey applications and providers has long been the standard approach for organizations of all sizes outside of healthcare that are adept at considering total cost of ownership (TCO).
The next step forward in evaluation of a solution is the true Software as a Service, or SaaS, business model. With the fundamental distinction of being web-based and accessed via a browser, SaaS applications save buyers a great deal by avoiding the costs of acquiring and maintaining expensive computing and storage infrastructure to support on-premise systems. Leading companies offering SaaS model applications go much further than “renting software,” thought by some to be an unnecessary expense. The best practitioners of the SaaS model accomplish three major things that are impossible, difficult or very expensive with other models.
- Update the application frequently: Because the process of distributing updates is simpler and less expensive than with on-premise software, SaaS-model companies frequently provide quarterly or even monthly updates. Such updates typically include enhancements and extensions of functionality, as well as adaptations required by regulators and other authorities in healthcare. This same advantage in efficiency makes it possible and likely that the delivery of software corrections and “fixes” can take place in hours, instead of weeks or months, as is often the case with on premise software.
- Operate efficiently and pass savings on to customers: SaaS-model companies operate on the latest technology platforms, facilitating rapid development and deployment of changes, making them far easier and less expensive to maintain. Companies that have started out as such build their entire operations around utilizing the most up-to-date technologies and methodologies, so their internal operating expenses are lower than those of traditional software companies. These and other efficiencies allow SaaS-model companies to pass their savings along to customers, driving down prices, usually as non-capitalized monthly or annual subscriptions.
- Provide proactive, expert support: Unrelated to the technology side of the SaaS model, the best of these providers work on the principle of an ongoing collaboration with each of their customers. The frequent updates and efficient operations mentioned above allow SaaS-model companies to focus on providing support staff that are highly skilled, have in many cases done the work of the very users they support, and are responsive to, or anticipatory of, the evolving needs of their customers. In the case of healthcare quality, safety and improvement efforts, this approach involves leveraging research on evolving performance measure definitions, best practices, and information submission mandates carried out by the support staff, and integrating them into the application for all to use, saving a great deal of the users’ time.
Understanding what SaaS-model companies represent and offer, healthcare executives can appreciate that this means of operating is exactly what is needed in the strategic advancement of healthcare information technology.
As a fully actualized example of a SaaS-model offering, Prista and its ActionCue application transform the relationship an organization has with its information technology. No longer a bottom-line cost, source of frustration for staff, or drain on productivity, ActionCue is a critical facilitator of clinical performance improvement, providing tactical and strategic benefits for the organization’s people and processes, and delivering ROI.
Taken one by one, any of these departures from the status quo would be valuable and beneficial to a hospital and even more so for a healthcare system. Each of these steps forward would be truly strategic, with broad and long-term positive effects. But taken altogether, these changes in thinking and the realization of them in a platform like ActionCue Clinical Intelligence is truly a transformational step forward for healthcare organizations.