Process improvements in healthcare organizations
In the highly competitive and rapidly evolving healthcare industry, organizations are under unprecedented pressure to make the most efficient use of their time, personnel, and resources. For many healthcare companies, internal processes that served them well in the past are now hampering their ability to maintain profitability and keep up with the swift pace of change. By applying process improvement principles, organizations can renovate outdated processes to lower the risk of error, shrink timelines, and optimize the use of personnel and other resources.
A Changing Environment
Healthcare organizations are being driven to re-examine their processes as a result of numerous industry trends, including the following:
Value-based care: The growing popularity of value-based reimbursements is placing pressure on healthcare providers to operate more efficiently, which can trickle down the supply chain to affect players in the pharmaceutical, biotech, and life science spaces.
Increased M&A activity: Merger and acquisition activities among hospitals and health systems have increased over the last decade. Organizations that are preparing for mergers or looking to be acquired are under pressure to maximize productivity and streamline operations. Here also, that pressure can trickle down to their supply-chain partners.
Rise of artificial intelligence (AI): More healthcare organizations are leveraging the benefits of AI and machine learning in automating routine tasks. However, as we explored in a recent Insight, automation can only succeed when organizations apply it to efficient processes. If a process is inefficient to begin with, automation will not fix the underlying problems — it simply adds another layer of technology (and cost).
Insights from a Client Case Study
Recently a global healthcare enterprise contacted Logic20/20 to help them improve their clinical trials process, which was under strain due to a rapid expansion of the business. Their internal teams were at capacity, doing their best to keep the trials program running with the resources they had available. Short-term solutions — such as new trainings with limited scope and materials, one-off adjustments to their technology stack, and changes to the team structure — had delivered only limited improvements.
As a result of these challenges, the company was unable to provide value-added services or respond promptly to client requests and inquiries, causing the customer experience to suffer. In working with the clinical trials team, we implemented three keys to optimizing their process in a way that can produce long-term benefits.
Key #1: Standardization
One barrier to our client’s continued growth was a lack of process standardization, which required the clinical trials team to “reinvent the wheel” with every trial. As a result, processes could not be scaled up to accommodate the increased workload. Training and knowledge sharing were also not standardized, increasing the risk of error and creating inconsistencies in the customer experience.
Standardizing the clinical trials process not only allowed the organization to create a re-usable blueprint — thus relieving teams of the need to come up with ad hoc processes on their own — but also created an opportunity to optimize the use of time and resources. Introducing standardized training and knowledge sharing made it easier to onboard new team members and helped ensure that best practices were being learned and adopted consistently.
Key #2: The Right Technology for the Job
Our client was using inefficient legacy tools, each with its own siloed requirements, that made automation impossible. Using these tools often required time-consuming manual intervention that slowed down the trials process.
As we evaluated our client’s needs at every phase of the trials process, we identified the tools that were working well versus those that created delays or required extensive manual intervention. We also designated areas where automation would be beneficial (e.g. sending notices to physicians when they need to update their CVs, licensing information, etc.) and where manual control was required (e.g. canceling notifications for physicians who are not participating in a particular study). These insights enabled us to recommend new tools and adjustments to existing tools that allow technology to best serve the needs of the team throughout the process.
Key #3: Pre-Emptive Problem Solving
In almost any process, most roadblocks and bottlenecks arise from the same set of problems that occur repeatedly. Because our client lacked a system for identifying recurring problems, not only were they spending time coming up with one-off solutions, but they were also unable to prevent those same failures from disrupting future trials.
Once we determined the most frequently occurring problems in our client’s clinical trials process, we built in steps for preventing them and created standardized processes for dealing with them effectively and efficiently should they occur in the future.
Where to Begin
In today’s challenging healthcare environment where rapid change is the norm, inefficient processes that exist simply “because we’ve always done it that way” can be a liability. However, the prospect of reworking extensive processes involving multiple teams and layers of interdependencies can appear overwhelming, leaving many organizations wondering where to begin.
Before diving into solutions, it’s important to gain a thorough understanding of your current process: interview stakeholders, evaluate data and outcomes from past iterations, and map the procedure from beginning to end. Analyzing the results from this first step — and validating those results with stakeholders — will reveal many of the gaps and bottlenecks that slow the process or negatively affect outcomes. Once you determine how to address these pain points, you can build a roadmap for executing changes and evaluating the results.