Take care when cutting costs in your hospital IT department

The Affordable Care Act means reduced Medicare payments for some hospitals. But it's still in their best interest to forgo serious IT team cuts.

Some hospitals face reductions to Medicare and Medicaid payments as a result of the Affordable Care Act. What's one way to cut costs while maintaining or improving care quality? Maintaining or increasing the hospital IT department's budget, instead of taking the ax to it.

Now is one of the most challenging times for healthcare executives. To reduce readmissions, participate in outcome-based payment programs and be fully electronic, they require more capital. That means many are trimming unneeded positions and making other budget decisions designed to improve efficiency. Many are concerned whether hospitals can successfully overcome the burdens associated with tighter budgets and deadlines.

Cuts have taken place at some hospitals around the U.S. Hospitals in North Carolina, Illinois and other states have seen their leadership take pay cuts to ensure other areas of their facility don't suffer. In some cases, hospital IT departments have seen budgets shrink, reducing the facility's ability to start new upgrade projects and putting others on hold.

IT departments don't simply play an important role in technical support; they also help ensure many of a hospital's initiatives are successful. They do this by supporting the central nervous system of a hospital. With reduced budgets, IT departments may find it difficult to properly support the systems that hospitals run on. And delivering the needed systems for any new initiatives would be even more difficult.

Hospital executives should open a dialogue with their IT director and chief information officer, so IT can assist in reducing costs by streamlining workflows where it makes sense. Here are some examples of how IT contributes to the bottom line when it receives sufficient support from the rest of organization:

  • Secure health information and ensure compliance with HIPAA and other regulatory compliance mandates.
  • Maintain system uptime and significantly reduce any loss of productivity due to system outages.
  • Implement new initiatives that support staff and streamline processes and workflows.
  • Implement of all the systems used within the facility.
  • Connect hospitals to entities such as HIEs and other health organizations.
  • Enable hospitals to do more with fewer resources.
  • Leverage system data to create measures and insights from clinical data analysis, contributing to lowering rates of errors and readmissions.

Although IT plays a significant role in supporting hospitals, there is little data available regarding their effect on the overall patient outcomes. However, it's easy to spot IT's vital role in many of the initiatives that the hospitals are embarking upon. Any careless cuts to IT can have a significantly negative impact on the facility as a whole.

About the author:
Reda Chouffani is vice president of development with Biz Technology Solutions Inc., which provides software design, development and deployment services for the healthcare industry. Let us know what you think about the story; email editor@searchhealthit.com or contact @SearchHealthIT on Twitter.

This was first published in October 2013

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