Waste is an unfortunate part of almost every industry. Construction, demolition and renovation companies generate waste in the form of ignitable or toxic wreckage and debris. Motor freight and railroad transportation businesses emit residuals from shipment of product or hazardous waste and volatile organic emissions.
In the healthcare industry, waste includes infectious, pathological, chemical, pharmaceutical, cytotoxic and radioactive materials. Hospitals alone generate more than five million tons of waste each year. This doesn’t include financial waste, which costs the United States healthcare system $760 billion to $935 billion annually. That’s about 25 percent of total medical spending in the U.S.
Waste in healthcare also encompasses overuse of services, although not necessarily intentionally, and a lack of interoperability and productivity, resulting in an output of more than $8.3 billion annually. Even the use of paper forms costs the industry approximately $120 billion per year.
The Importance of Efficient Workflows
One of the primary contributing factors to waste in the U.S. healthcare system is inefficient workflows. An estimated 40 percent of clinical office work involves redundant tasks and wasted effort. Barriers to efficient workflows consist of poor usable design of technology for documentation and communications, resistance to change by providers and staff and inefficient communication and coordination.
Some physician practices still utilize paper-based workflows, which often are time-consuming and error-prone and offer limited security. Such inefficiencies also reduce productivity, negatively affect the bottom line and frustrate patients, staff and physicians.
Conversely, implementing technology and other solutions for streamlined workflow has the potential to reduce waste, especially for administrative tasks that don’t directly affect patient care. The projected potential savings from interventions that reduce waste, excluding savings from administrative complexity, range from $191 billion to $286 billion.
When hospitals, health systems and physician practices proactively attempt to improve workflows, numerous advantages are achieved, including:
- Clinicians can communicate and collaborate more efficiently, thereby delivering better care to patients.
- Clinical outcomes are strengthened.
- Clinicians are able to complete tasks in less time or with less effort.
- Common bottlenecks that hamper patient flow are reduced without the need for increased staffing levels.
- Clinicians can spend more face-to-face time with patients.
- Return on investment (ROI) is maximized through more efficient use of resources.
- Clinicians can reduce the time waiting for others to complete tasks.
Two Key Ways to Enhance Clinical Workflows
The aim of improving clinical workflows is to identify areas where improvements can be made to improve efficiency, such as eliminating repetition of tasks and redundant processes. Implementing automation and strengthening communication are two ways to achieve this. When these two areas are combined, healthcare providers are more likely to improve the care they provide to patients while reducing operational costs.
The U.S. is at the forefront of developing automation, and many processes across various industries are now automated. Automation can be used in healthcare to proactively improve quality and consistency of patient care and reduce waste and costs. It’s defined as the use of control systems and information technologies to reduce the need for human work in the production of goods and services.
In addition to streamlining key financial and administrative processes, automation aids healthcare providers by eliminating inefficiency, reducing manual tasks, improving resource utilization and eliminating bottlenecks that hamper patient flow. Approximately 40 percent of the tasks conducted by healthcare support occupations can be automated, as can about one-third of those performed by healthcare practitioners and technical occupations.
By streamlining administrative processes, clinicians have more time for patient care. Other benefits of automation in the healthcare industry include reduced human error, improved patient monitoring and management, more comprehensive reporting, increased decision support for improved patient safety, enhanced clinical precision, quicker retrieval of data, improved staff satisfaction and reduced labor costs.
As noted in the HIPAA Journal, one of the biggest problem areas that impedes clinical workflows and reduces patient throughput is inefficient communication systems. A review of reports from a study conducted by The Joint Commission revealed more than 70 percent of medical errors are the direct result of communication failures. Another study found that an average 500-bed hospital loses more than $4 million each year due to communication inefficiencies.
Some healthcare providers still use outdated channels of communication, including pagers, fax machines and email. Aprevious study suggested that fax accounts for 75 percent of all medical communication. Such methods often impede vital workflows, slow patient throughout, negatively affect patient outcomes, unnecessary hospital readmissions and decrease day-to-day operational efficiency.
By implementing solutions and processes that promote communication, healthcare providers benefit from increased compliance with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) guidelines, reduced medical errors, improved provider-patient interactions, improved teamwork and fewer patient complaints. Providers that have optimized clinical communications report measurable improvements in patient transfer times, bed utilization, patient throughput, clinical outcomes and patient satisfaction.
Recommended Technology Tools for Healthcare Providers
Providers can use cost-effective patient outreach tools to improve their workflows and increase patient engagement and satisfaction while reducing a waste of resources. For example, HIPAA-compliant two-way text messaging solutions enable providers to improve efficiency, close gaps in care and decrease incoming call volume.
For providers attempting to improve their patient no-show and cancellation rates, automated appointment reminders are an effective option. They help to eliminate last-minute no-shows and reclaim revenue by double-booking appointments for at-risk patients.
Find out how Providertech solutions enable you to securely exchange messages with your patients and create customized communication workflows. Read our blog for more information on issues affecting the healthcare industry.