Understanding your operation’s workflow is key to implementing and selecting IT vendors that support your processes and can also potentially offer a way to streamline workflow. ModernHealthcare.com recently published an article about the ‘disappointing results’ seen in health IT deployment. The article mentions that the HHS’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) emphasizes a need for closer attention to business workflow for the success of IT implementation.

Example of Patient Check-in Workflow

Example of Patient Check-in Workflow

The AHRQ is seeking budget approval to conduct field assessments and collect data in order to create an updated workflow toolkit for healthcare IT – the last toolkit was updated in 2008. Although dated, the real issue may be the lack of awareness of the toolkit and the need to evaluate internal workflow prior to the vendor selection process.

While the HHS has fairly decent resources available, they’re not always easy to find. And with the latest federal HIPAA audit program and action taken against business associates involved in data breaches, any industry that touches PHI are now paying more attention to the laws to avoid the penalties and fees associated with a breach than they were back in 2008.

The workflow diagram to the right shows the detailed steps taken during a patient check-in.

Just a few examples of clinic workflows include:

  • Answering phones
  • Appointment systems
  • Ordering and reporting diagnostic testing
  • Ordering medications
  • Making referrals
  • Billing and coding

HIMSS has an informative slideshow detailing the ARHQ’s Workflow Assessment Toolkit, developed specifically for health IT in ambulatory care, answering the question of why is it important to understand your workflow when planning, implementing, and using health IT.

The first answer is to avoid potential problems down the road when it comes to disrupting clinical and administrative workflows – implementing an EHR system and other technologies creates changes in patient care, billing and other processes. Planning ahead can help with the process overhaul, but I believe healthcare organizations should not only plan for these changes, but also plan to create an entirely new set of processes and train their employees in them, whether that means using the expertise of their vendors or hiring new, experienced personnel.

The second answer refers to assisting in vendor selection. Making an IT overhaul, for security, efficiency and legal reasons, requires asking the question, how can we work smarter? And, what can we eliminate or change for the better? Whether that’s consolidating points of contact or steps taken, eliminating the middle man, or choosing a HIPAA compliant hosting provider that can effectively manage your services while you focus on your own business or patients, you need to make a Keep, Throw Out and Overhaul list of processes prior to signing a contract. How can you go out and get what you need if you aren’t quite sure what that is?

If you need some assistance with workflow flowcharts, the ARHQ has examples and guides on how to define a process here.

References
AHRQ: ‘Disappointing Results’ Often Seen in Health IT Deployment
Workflow Assessment for Health IT in Ambulatory Care (PDF)