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3 COVID-19 health system investments for better ROI, patient UX

Companies should consider robotic process automation, integrated telehealth and migrating from legacy systems to help lower costs and improve ROI and patient experiences.

COVID-19-driven disruption has uncovered issues within the health IT ecosystem that went previously undetected. If left unresolved, cash-strapped health systems will be most affected, which could be catastrophic, unless forward-looking players in the industry become proactive, take precautions and make the necessary adjustments needed to remain afloat.

Nowhere is that more evident than in the case of IT investments. Currently, health systems face critical budget shortfalls, together with a host of other challenges stemming from COVID-19, the following three focus areas should be top of mind for organizational leaders today.

1. Robotic process automation: Helps the costs go down

Streamlined insurance-approval processes, improved patient care outcomes, fewer mistakes associated with patient care -- it's easy to see what all the hype is about when it comes to robotic process automation (RPA) applications.

In fact, the trend toward RPA adoption appears to be accelerating, in large part driven by COVID-19 disruption. For example, half of U.S. healthcare providers reportedly plan to invest in RPA technologies in the next three years (whereas only 5% have them in place today), according to the latest research from Gartner. The bottom line is that RPA-driven cost savings almost immediately translate to freed up capital reserves, which can then be deployed where it really counts: front-end clinical functions.  

2. Integrated telehealth: Getting to maturity (without any more ad hoc fixes)

Immediately following the onset of the global pandemic, healthcare organizations -- like companies in nearly every other sector -- were scrambling to stitch together a patchwork quilt of ad hoc IT fixes. All of that was necessary simply in order to stay solvent and afloat. But now, what's needed is a longer-term, more strategically integrated approach.

Take telehealth, for example, which delivers value in three key areas: overall health and safety, patient care and risk mitigation. At present, the benefits of integrated telehealth are fairly obvious, including:

  • supporting seamless interactions between providers;
  • creating opportunities for provider-to-provider training;
  • delivering service capacity and quality gains (think of small rural hospital emergency departments and pharmacy services);
  • facilitating direct patient-provider interaction (such as urgent care services or follow-up for diabetes); and
  • enabling care for patients with multiple chronic conditions -- safely and from a distance.

Clearly, telehealth is going to be an essential offering for hospitals and other providers that hope to thrive in our still-unfolding COVID-19 environment. According to GMI Insights, the market size is forecasted to quadruple to $175.5 billion by 2026. And looking ahead, too, identifying and implementing innovative and integrated approaches to patient care that can also mitigate risks will likely remain the "true north" for healthcare companies for some time to come. What we're seeing today with telehealth is only the first iteration of that trend.

3. Data archiving: The high (sometimes hidden) costs of data archiving for healthcare organizations

Across the industry, healthcare organizations tend to hold onto their data far longer than their counterparts in, say, tech or retail. Oftentimes, too, the rationale for doing so is laudatory: protecting patient privacy, for example, or ensuring vital information doesn't get lost in the pipeline between one healthcare provider and the next. But good intentions can't cover the sunken costs.

This is especially the case when it comes to clinical data, which can often be found in healthcare IT systems long after a new EHR system goes live. But think about what that means: Keeping all those legacy systems up and running when it may not be strictly necessary to do so isn't free. In fact, it generally comes with considerable added costs.

What's the alternate approach? And more to the point, what can healthcare organizations do right now in order to eliminate needless costs and start operating more efficiently? My advice is to follow this step-by-step approach.

  • Begin by analyzing your legacy systems, as well as all relevant data elements -- and try to determine the legal retention requirements of those data elements.
  • Define a clear data strategy for each data element. What data absolutely needs to be converted, archived, destroyed and so on?
  • Create and document the data element extraction process you will use.
  • Introduce a project plan for each area, clearly identifying goals and objectives for the effort.
  • Align on the testing and validation approach you will take for each data element.

From there, you should be all set to lay out -- and begin executing on -- a plan for sunsetting each legacy system. Needless to say, journeying through these challenges might not be fun or easy, but it's nonetheless a must for any modern, cost-conscious, patient-centric healthcare system. Effective healthcare delivery simply can't cover the cost of maintaining needless legacy IT.

What comes next?

Transforming and integrating capabilities, increasing operational efficiencies and cutting costs associated with legacy data and systems -- all of these topics should be very much top of mind for leaders in the healthcare space today. The journey won't happen overnight, of course, but the good news is that there are always strategic partners out there who can help. Just try to keep the areas I've outlined in this article in focus as you steer your organization into the future. They should help you begin to streamline your operations, identify cost savings opportunities and finally sunset IT systems you're no longer using.

About the author

Alan Clark is the vice president of strategic accounts and industry verticals at Randstad Technologies. He has over 20 years of consulting and human capital management experience. In his current role, Alan is responsible for driving the overall sales strategy and execution for the healthcare vertical within Randstad Technologies. Randstad Technologies healthcare vertical consists of over 50 payers and providers with annual revenues exceeding $200 million.

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