3 ways providers can help clinicians gain timely access to data

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In healthcare, access to actionable data is mission critical. But while physicians don’t need the skills of an undercover agent to pull actionable intelligence from their systems, obtaining the right data at the right time is often challenging—particularly in large health systems, such as integrated delivery networks.

Across the country, large health systems have spent millions of dollars on electronic health records (EHRs) and other systems that hold the promise of connecting physicians and hospital leaders to comprehensive patient, financial and administrative data that can better inform approaches to care and revenue cycle processes. In this case, data is shared internally, across facilities and, ideally, with other organizations across the care continuum.

However, many organizations have yet to reap the benefits of such systems. In fact, a recent HFMA/Navigant survey of healthcare CFOs and revenue cycle executives found that more than half struggle to realize the benefits of EHRs, especially around workflow, reporting and functionality. They also can’t keep pace with EHR upgrades.

For large systems, connecting people and data is not just a matter of achieving interoperability. It’s about gaining the most benefit from the technologies they have invested in—and making it easy for physicians and staff to use these technologies to advance care, improve health and processes.

There are three ways large health systems can better connect people and data.

Develop customized dashboards that pull data from disparate systems. For large healthcare systems, the biggest opportunity to maximize technology investments is to make it easy for physicians to view all of the data needed to make informed treatment decisions in one place. Using a vendor-neutral database, organizations can give physicians the comprehensive data view they seek with the touch of a button, eliminating the need to review multiple screens from multiple systems.

During a recent health system walk-through, one physician recounted that EHR implementation had actually made his job 10 times harder because the physician can no longer find patient data easily. Before EHRs were introduced, a nurse would hand the physician a folder that provided access to the most recent test results and imaging studies. Now, each patient visit is preceded by a system log in and a hunt for answers: “What information do I need to care for my patient, and how many screens do I have to touch to get it?”

Customized dashboards are a perfect-state solution in systems still striving for interoperability. By involving physicians in the design of custom dashboards for data reporting, health system leaders will be better able to present data in snapshot views that physicians both need and use.

Assess the EHR for areas of data leakage. One large academic system, years after its EHR implementation, still reported that it was losing revenue and couldn’t determine where. After some sleuthing, 70 opportunities for revenue improvement were identified in the laboratory alone—all related to process workflows that could be fixed with staff training.

At a time when most large health systems face declining revenues, taking a hard look at the EHR to determine where the system might be broken is a necessary step in meeting an organization’s mission. Look for areas where information isn’t moving properly or where data is becoming lost before it is being billed.

Diagnose information hoarding at the staff level, and collaborate on a cure. When staff cannot find the information they need easily in an EHR, or when they struggle with tools to automate data capture, they will find a workaround. Unfortunately, these workarounds, such as printing the data needed and holding onto stacks of paper data files longer than necessary, present compliance risks for large health systems. They also don’t solve the issue of easy access to information and can lead to continued lost revenue.

Consider a system that implemented handheld scanners in the operating rooms of multiple facilities. Nurses were expected to scan the barcodes of items used during surgery at the point of use, but most nurses weren’t using the handheld scanners. Instead, they peeled the barcode stickers from the packaging and stuck the stickers inside the patient folder, with plans to manually enter the information later. When stickers were misplaced, the information wasn’t recorded.

It turned out the nurses didn’t fully understand how to use the handheld scanners. In this instance, additional training helped bring nurses on board. Even more important was helping nurses understand the “why” of the task. For example, tracking the make and model of a device implanted during surgery is critical to patient health if the device were to be recalled later. After nurses understood the potential impact of their actions on patient health, they adopted the new workflows.

Connecting people to the data they need at the right time and the right place isn’t just about having the right technologies and gadgets. It’s also about helping team members understand why the data is critical and how their actions support data capture and transfer. Empowering team members to use data to improve care is critical to meeting a health system’s mission, and its survival.

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