My boss and I were invited to the National Institute for Health (NIH) last week to share our experience in developing physician and patient portals. After spending most of the day meeting with various NIH staff members and their Medical Executive Committee, I came away with a renewed sense of energy and excitement for what we do; using IT to improve hospital operations. Like HIMSS a couple of weeks ago, my time with the NIH has shown there is a growing group of dedicated healthcare professionals who see the way to reform is through the use of HIT. What has also become apparent is the way to reform is not going to be found by looking within healthcare.
All too often you hear these questions: What are other healthcare institutions like us doing in this space? How are the leading healthcare organizations dealing with this problem? Who is best-in-class in this and how can we learn from them? These are all excellent questions, but they need to be applied to those outside of healthcare. Benchmarking each other will produce incremental improvements and not the kind of reform needed today. Healthcare needs to recognize what customers expect in their online experience and step-up.
Do you want to streamline patient appointment scheduling? Look at the airline industry. Through the web, I can search available flights by cost, time, or flight duration, select the flight that best meets my needs, schedule and pay for the flight and even pick my seat (unless you are on Southwest…). That is best-in-class thinking and it is what the general public is used to for online interactions. Is making a clinic visit really that much more complicated then flying a plane?
You want to improve the laboratory testing process? Take a look at the pizza industry. On the web, I can select the exact pizza I want, size, toppings, crust, follow the creation of the pizza, and know exactly where it is in the creation process. What if you applied that process to the lab? Allow physicians to order the exact test they need, schedule when it is going to happen, and provide transparent access to the entire process so they can know exactly when those results are going to be available.
You want to improve you patient check-in process? Look again at the airline industry. Airlines allow check-in up to 24 hours prior to the flight. This eases congestion at the gate, moves people through the airport with greater efficiency, reduces the staff required to process passengers, and generally improves the entire user experience. What if you took this process and used it in healthcare? Patients could check-in prior to their appointment, electronically review information and sign any required forms, and electronically process any co-pays or required fees. Patients could receive a “boarding pass” that indicates they are ready to go and be allowed to focus on the business of their care versus the logistics of being a patient. Think of the savings in staff hours, space utilization (patients are not spending minutes/hours completing forms in the waiting rooms), and the reduction in no-shows.
The bottom line; there are others out there who are doing the same processes used in healthcare who have found ways to do it better. Find those examples, study them, and adapt processes based on that new learning.
Yes, there are barriers to change and there will always be barriers to change. What we can no longer afford to do is keep our heads in the sand as an industry or only accept what others like us are doing.
The world has changed, the bar has been raised, and it is time for us to jump.