In the U.S., electronic medical record (EMR) vendors have largely succeeded in digitizing healthcare data. Fueled by the passing of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009, specifically the Hi-Tech provisions and associated available stimulus dollars, hospitals rapidly implemented EMRs that could help them reach “meaningful use” and therefore offset the cost of their investment. In 2009, only 12.2% of non-federal acute-care hospitals had implemented an EMR; by 2020 that number grew to 89%. When industries digitize, there are usually second- and third-order benefits in terms of efficiency, quality, experience, cost, access, and more that are realized as organizations embrace change. While there have been pockets benefits from digitalization in healthcare, there is still a long way to go before realizing its full potential.

The main benefit of digital healthcare is the availability of data to inform management, clinical, or operational decision making. I spent nearly 16 years at Cerner Corporation working in a number of areas of healthcare IT, including physician adoption, population health, patient throughput, and staffing. During that time, I was fortunate to get to know many clients, colleagues, partners, and healthcare workers who believed that the digitization of clinical and operational data would spur a transformation to truly data-driven healthcare delivery and management. Yet this transformation remains elusive. Why?

I believe there are a few reasons that organizations have not yet fully delivered the benefits of digital healthcare, specifically in the area of operations management.

Where is the data? Digital health records are disjointed

EMRs are fantastic repositories of clinical data, patient data for treatment at a specific organization, some scheduling data, and some operational data. Still, the EMR is just one of many systems deployed today inside a health system. Critical information, including time and attendance, patient acuity, bed management, environmental services and patient transport, staff scheduling, patient scheduling, and more resides in a number of other systems. These disparate systems help manage their specific component(s) of operations, but none focus on the whole picture.

The real-time data challenge

For years, informatics teams and business analysts at health systems have been pulling together reports from those disparate systems to understand data from past events, and then leveraged those complex data sets to create reports intended to inform continuous improvement. The dream has been real-time visibility and predictive capabilities so that healthcare operations can move from reacting to what has already happened to proactively making decisions on what is happening now or will happen soon. The challenge for healthcare-based informatics and reporting teams is that pulling data from various information systems and the business approach for integration make getting accurate, real-time data on an ongoing basis extraordinarily difficult.

Digital health command centers

Even with real-time information and predictive future states, leveraging new knowledge inside of existing workflows remains a challenge, especially when stakeholders have not re-oriented around the concept. One way the industry has attempted to address the workflow issue is through the development of command centers. Command centers essentially address the lack of workflows for real-time and predictive data at the point of service (units, OR, ED, etc.) by providing a place for people to centrally direct operations. I’ve been a proponent of command centers for the visibility they provide, but they are only a step on the journey to delivering the benefits of digital healthcare operations, not an end state. Only when systems and workflows support data-driven operational decisions at the point of service that will we realize the promise of real-time and predictive data.

Hospital IQ Delivers the Benefits of Digital Healthcare

The data used to enable these solutions is already within your current operations systems. Hospital IQ can transform it into real-time, prescriptive actions, which are more effective for improving operational performance than reports and dashboards that are, at best, a day old. While there are challenges for health systems to embrace data-driven operations, innovation is making it easier to overcome those challenges. We continue to work with our clients to advance healthcare operations in these and new areas, all on one platform.

We believe when healthcare workers know what’s coming, they can capitalize on their experience and expertise and ensure the best possible outcomes, both patient and financial, for the benefit of the entire health system.