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Workfl ow Management

The elegance of workfl ow automation

Improving workfl ow leads to a virtuous cycle of process enhancement. By Thomas R. Ferry


et’s face it: Workfl ow automation isn’t sexy. It doesn’t project the allure of ACOs or HIEs or model homes. But it should. That’s because work- fl ow automation is what will, in large part, be the engine that powers new healthcare models. Automation is all about effi ciency and effectiveness. Yes, it speeds processes and lowers costs, but it’s more than that. When done right, workfl ow automation: Generates data that leads to best practices.

With automation comes data capture. Every action is recorded by activity type, by user, by case or by patient – even by date and time. Ag- gregating that data and then tracking trends and results yield patterns of activity – approaches to problem solving – worth institutionalizing. Measures performance to change behavior. The Achilles’ heel of best practices? Bad behavior. Just as workfl ow automa- tion can help embed best practices within an organization, it removes impediments to instilling them in the individuals who must execute them. Workfl ow automation is change management on steroids. It makes desired change routine and replicable, minimizing human error and eliminating personal preferences. Frees up people to do what technology can’t. Workfl ow automation is ideal for repetitive, labor-intensive work. Em- ploying people, for example, to input the same information in a multitude of forms is ludicrous when auto-populating fi elds are available. Allocate people (and labor costs) for thinking and applying insight to data and the development and introduction of best practices.

It’s that human aptitude, abundantly more available when ministerial tasks are automated, that helps generate more ideas and refi nements based on automatically generated busi- ness intelligence. With the additional ideas and refi nements, more process improvements are incorporated in an automated workfl ow. It becomes a virtuous cycle of effi ciency.

Demonstrable difference, quantifi able results The need for process improvements is only growing. Today, we face more regulatory requirements, increasing fi nancial

12 August 2011

Thomas R. Ferry is president and CEO of Curaspan Health Group, headquartered in Newton, Mass.

For more information on Curaspan solutions:

pressures, a shrinking workforce and an older, sicker patient population. Providers must do more with less. With workfl ow automation, they can. Leveraging technology with workfl ow automation frees clinicians to spend more time with patients. At Sentara Leigh Hospital in Norfolk, Va., part of Sentara Healthcare, one secretary trained to use patient-transition software as a service began handling all placement-related administrative tasks for a team of 13 case managers who could then focus more on care coordination. That redirection of resources helped contribute to a 10 percent increase in patient-satisfaction ratings. We have found that clinicians who regularly receive, review and respond to data achieve better care outcomes that in turn generate better fi nancial results. A review of aggregated 2010 data for 168 Curaspan hospital customers with 150 beds or more reveals a 14 percent readmission rate overall versus approximately 20 percent nationwide; they cut readmissions overall for the second year in a row and saved on average about $1.5 million each.

The new frontier of workfl ow automation Those providers who’ve embraced workfl ow automa- tion and are seeing the results – clinical and fi nancial – will be the early adopters of the next incarnation of workfl ow automation: synchronized patient management. It’s a fully integrated approach to patient management that synchro- nizes the workfl ow activities of all participants across the continuum of care.

Hospitals, post-acute providers and payers, for example, will share a role-specifi c view of the same patient-centric data and be able to better coordinate their work. Utilization management will be enhanced. Concurrent reviews will be ex- pedited, resources maximized and patient care improved. Synchronized patient management will be what makes new models of care work. Just as an automated assembly line helped transform the auto industry, a greater reliance on more sophisticated workfl ow automation will be the engine behind a real transformation in healthcare.


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