How Healthcare Practices Can Realize Better Data Analysis and Higher Quality Patient Care through a Digital Operations Platform

Updated on October 12, 2023
A business analytics person analyzing the health status of the world from its hands with illustrated pie charts and graphs concept

The push toward value-based care is among the most challenging issues the healthcare industry faces today. It drives the increasing need for providers to fully understand the cost of the care they’re delivering so they can remain profitable. Total cost of care, which needs to account not just for the cost of services but also for provider and staff salaries, office rent, supplies and other overhead, is nearly impossible to capture for the many practices that operate on disparate technology systems.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 directed stimulus funds toward modernizing healthcare technology systems, but electronic medical records (EMR) typically were the only systems updated. Back-office accounting, enterprise resource planning (ERP) and other critical programs commonly remain on older, siloed systems, and healthcare leaders still use antiquated, manual data integration methods that obscure the complete picture of how their organizations are performing. As one example of the real business costs of continuing to use these outdated systems, a smaller health center in Florida was spending 20 hours each month just to manually produce financial reports requested by its board of directors.

Next-generation technology that enables automation, integrated connectivity and comprehensive data visibility is the only way healthcare organizations will be able to achieve real-time performance reporting, actionable data analysis and higher-quality, more personalized patient care. This reality has injected new urgency into the modernization of healthcare organizations’ technology functions.

Healthcare practices will realize the most powerful outcomes through a digital operations platform (DOP) approach. DOP, a term coined by Forrester Research, provides data visibility across a healthcare organization through best-of-breed, next-generation systems integration. A DOP is characterized by its adaptiveness for fast-changing organizational needs; built-in Artificial Intelligence (AI); and accessibility for interactions beyond the browser, says Forrester.

Steps Toward Next-Generation Technology Adoption

Limited budget and training resources and learning curves for already-busy professionals – perceived as impediments to new technology adoption in healthcare practices – are manageable when decision makers approach the challenge with three measured steps. 

Identify the organization’s unique needs.

Next-generation technology for healthcare organizations could include ERP, customer relationship and human capital management, patient scheduling, revenue cycle management and others. Any given technology is valuable only to the extent that it can be applied to achieve organizational goals. Before making product choices, leaders should develop a strategic plan that uncovers the most urgent problems they need their technology to solve.

These considerations usually include greater access to real-time regulatory reporting and organizational performance data. Practices with multiple clinics will need to understand how each one is performing and how profitable its services and procedures are at each location. Other goals could include:

  • confirming the organization’s desired patient and employee experiences
  • incorporating non-financial operational data into the reporting model
  • the ability to merge data available in electronic medical records with indirect cost information accumulated outside of EMR 
  • clarity on how to accurately allocate those combined costs

No single next-generation solution is right for every healthcare ecosystem. A result that enables data to be connected in usable ways comes from identifying desired outcomes upfront and using those goals as a foundation for technology decision making. Using that business strategy to drive the selection of new technologies, healthcare organizations greatly reduce the risk of making heavy investments in solutions that don’t deliver.

Partner with a technology advisor.

Healthcare practitioners know patient care but may feel underinformed about and daunted by the task of researching and parsing the differences between available technology options.

A platform-neutral technology advisor – differentiated from a software publisher, accounting firm or any other vendor that has only a single solution to sell – will first work to thoroughly review and understand the practice’s desired outcomes.

With that knowledge, the advisor can independently source critical business applications, guide leaders to a short list of alternatives ideally matched to the organization’s goals and provide direction on what’s important to prioritize in the evaluation process. A trusted advisor will further help the business consider Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and other compliance requirements in the decision-making process.

From a future-proofing standpoint, the advisor will vet recommended solutions to ensure both their staying power and their commitment to long-term investment in the technology products the healthcare organization intends to use going forward. 

Create a technology roadmap.

Few healthcare organizations have the financial and staff resources to make all of their desired technology changes at once. Creating a technology roadmap compels healthcare providers to prioritize their investments, ensuring that the biggest business challenges – as identified in the strategic plan – are addressed first while the project stays on track over time.

A technology roadmap summarizes the long-term business strategy and vision, identifies the products that will be adopted to support the strategy and establishes an incremental timeline and budget for full implementation.

The technology advisor can help create the roadmap by quantifying the financial investment and identifying the opportunities and impacts of proposed technology adoptions on the organization. With an accurate assessment of the likely return on each of the proposed investments the practice hopes to make, the advisor can help rank them and put together a budget and implementation schedule.

As each phase is completed, the practice has an opportunity to revisit the roadmap to:

  • confirm whether planned next steps are still valid for reaching the project goals
  • identify learnings that may call for changes to the plan
  • determine whether any priorities or timing should be adjusted

While the roadmap can evolve, it will serve throughout the project as a reliable iteration of purpose and direction that leads to realization of the healthcare entity’s goals.

Alternative funding models will place increasing pressure on healthcare organizations’ margins. Putting next-generation technology infrastructure in place, as part of a DOP, will allow those businesses to understand how they are performing, streamline their operations and achieve better financial outcomes.

If it sounds daunting, it’s because making these strategic changes calls upon knowledge practices may not already have in house. An objective advisor will help navigate the technology landscape with the healthcare organization’s best interests at the forefront, ensuring the business reaches the goals it has set out to achieve.

Tom Thornton 1
Tom Thornton

Tom Thornton is Healthcare Practice Director at Net at Work, North America’s largest provider of next-generation, digital operations platform technology solutions for small-to-medium sized medical providers and long-term care facilities. To learn how your organization can compete more effectively in today’s digital economy, visit www.netatwork.com.