5 keys to prioritizing IT investments for long-term success

Healthcare organizations need to take a fresh look at their technology decisions to simplify complex environments and achieve measurable results.

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The pressures facing healthcare organizations increases the need to focus on strategic investments that produce immediate returns on investment.

Healthcare organizations face immense pressure to contain costs while simultaneously investing in strategies that will help them minimize the impact of staffing shortages, simplify complex technical environments, and accelerate digital transformation to improve consumer and clinician experiences.

Healthcare leaders must decide which strategic investments to prioritize to produce an immediate return on investment rather than those projects that make only minor improvements or take too long to reap rewards.

Challenges for IT leaders

This article explores five market headwinds that healthcare leaders face and offers five principles to guide decision-making in investments and strategies that will help organizations succeed.

Staffing shortages. Healthcare organizations around the world are struggling with staffing shortages in both IT and clinical areas. Retirement, turnover and burnout have nurses exiting the profession altogether. These shortages leave healthcare organizations with limited capacity to treat patients and, in turn, impacts topline revenue. Staff retention requires incentives, wage increases, filling vacancies with contractors and a revamp of policies related to flexible working arrangements — all contributing to increased costs.

Demographic trends. Macrotrends such as an aging population and prevalence of chronic diseases in certain parts of the country also contribute to higher healthcare costs. Short-term economic factors aren’t helping either – the rising costs of drugs and supplies are going up because of inflation, supply chain issues and energy costs.

Complex technical environments. Healthcare organizations have overwhelmingly complex technical environments, often using hundreds of applications. This variety includes legacy, new or cutting-edge systems, with varying deployment models — on premise, cloud-based or hybrid solutions all co-existing. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare organizations rapidly adopted many new technologies, veering away from standard best practices and adding to complexity in the environment.

Compliance mandates. Regulatory initiatives like the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT information blocking and individual patient access regulations introduced new systems and data governance challenges. More recently, a rule has been proposed that would require Medicare Advantage, Medicaid and federally facilitated Marketplace health plans to streamline processes related to prior authorization.

Cybersecurity. The constant threat of cyberattacks against healthcare data, security, privacy and auditability introduces an extra layer of complexity. According to the 2021 HIMSS Healthcare Cybersecurity Survey, 67 percent of respondents indicated that their healthcare organizations had experienced significant security incidents in the past twelve months.

5 principles for success

Healthcare leaders must start simplifying the IT environment through deliberate prioritization to prepare for the next regulation, technology or global crisis. Rather than reducing IT investment, healthcare organizations should re-prioritize investments that enable long-term, sustainable success with projects that focus on demonstrating a positive return on investment.

Healthcare organizations can prioritize IT projects by following these principles.

Prioritize technology that uses scarce resources effectively. Deploy software solutions that leverage or extend scare resources and that automate routine tasks at scale. Using technology enables specialists to deliver high-quality care to more patients. Organizations then can reassign highly skilled IT experts to other strategic projects by buying solutions “as a service,” and they can continue to create deep expertise by maximizing each employee’s effectiveness through continuous education of those technologies.

Build for the future. Executives can future-proof their organizations by taking a long-term approach. A quick fix will not solve the underlying issues and won’t help an organization reach its long-term objectives. Healthcare organizations must become more efficient through the transformative use of technology. They need to take a best-of-breed approach to optimizing workflows with specialized solutions and unlocking the value of the data.

Spotlight your core competence. Executives can center their IT teams on core competencies and outsource the rest. By outsourcing certain pieces of your next IT project, technology teams can be deployed on more strategic projects and accelerate time to value. Enabling teams to focus on what they excel at maximizes their value and expedites project timelines.

Turn mandated projects into opportunities. Executives must go beyond mandates and consider how they can use compliance as a strategic advantage. Forward-looking organizations approach legislative requirements as leading indicators of how healthcare IT will evolve. As a result, they turn compliance into a competitive advantage or core competence so they can be at the leading edge of health IT progress.

Find the right mix of vendors. As the number of applications in an environment increases, so does the potential for overlap. At a certain point, it becomes useful to rationalize the IT environment by eliminating applications where it makes sense. Reducing the number and variety of applications simplifies the administrative and technical load on the IT department.

Vendor consolidation enables fewer, deeper relationships that require less overhead to manage. Partnering with fewer suppliers leads to increased purchasing power and streamlined vendor management for contracting, accounting and support. The end goal is not to reduce the vendor count at all costs, because relying on too few vendors can limit innovation and reduce competitive pricing. Rather, the end goal should be to find the right mix of vendors.

Healthcare organizations can become more efficient by understanding the benefits of optimizing IT investments, leveraging IT resources, demonstrating return on investment, and reducing the vendor count when necessary to help address the complexity of the IT environment. Long-term solutions can help them control costs and avoid short-term projects that make only marginal improvements.

Abigael Grippe is a strategy analyst for Lyniate, a technology vendor that offers a range of interoperability solutions.

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