Patient-centered healthcare depends on integrated software systems

With more than 500 separate, distinct software and hardware systems in daily use at the average U.S. healthcare institution, it is no wonder that data integration is emerging as one of the toughest challenges on the road to a patient-centered supply chain.

With the country’s patient profile shifting, and the mix of health services increasingly reflecting the needs of an aging population, system optimization should be a priority for any healthcare executive or administrator. But the need is already critical in federal healthcare facilities, where tomorrow’s demographic reality is today’s emergent need.

The defining features of that reality include a large and growing client base, continuous funding challenges, and the varied, often complex care requirements that have driven a wider conversation about healthcare expenditures, affordability, and financial sustainability. The U.S. Department of Defense treats nine million Americans per year and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs another six million—a combined total that is half again the patient roster of a private sector healthcare giant like Kaiser Permanente, with about 10 million members.

There is an opportunity and an urgent need to consolidate the various mission-critical information technologies in the typical care setting.

A ‘Massive Chasm’

Disconnects in infrastructure are a recipe for high frustration and higher costs, at a moment when healthcare facilities can least afford them.

For management, it means fewer real opportunities to optimize operations and control costs—not because the data is not available, but because it is not accessible.

For front-line practitioners, it complicates patient care when essential tools are unavailable in the moments when they are needed most.

And for elected officials—and the taxpayers to whom they are accountable—the missed opportunities and built-in inefficiencies translate into stubbornly rising costs that add a fiscal dimension to an already contentious debate on the fundamentals of healthcare delivery.

The common denominator is a system that has necessarily grown quickly, in an era when the technology was not available to make sure it could also grow efficiently.

When systems are disconnected from one another, an administrator most often manually downloads a spreadsheet of clinical needs and references that list by walking the halls and checking individual supply locations. As a result, individual patient needs are often overlooked or handled on a one-off basis.
The great news is that the systems are now in place to integrate the full range of raw information in healthcare systems’ possession, transforming it into data that drives decisions and action.

Time for a Fundamental Redesign

It will take a deliberate, planned effort for institutions to get from here to there. A patient-centered supply chain involves the fundamental redesign of how supplies are selected, moved, and delivered to the patient care setting. This relies on connecting the clinical systems to supply chain systems so they constantly feed and act on information from each other.

The right supply chain management software closes the gap between clinical and administrative sub-systems. An integrated system can anticipate an individual patient’s care supply needs and connect that clinical pathway with the facility’s supply chain operations. It all adds up to a single, tightly-integrated system that consolidates the full range of data in a single software instance, giving administrators greater visibility on supply chains and finances while freeing up scarce staff time that would otherwise have been tied down re-entering and cross-checking data.

The Trifecta: Better Outcomes, Patient Experience, Lower Cost

For healthcare institutions that are scrambling to cope with rising expectations, a shifting regulatory environment, and relentless cost pressures, an “all of the above” solution may sound too good to be true. However, managers, administrators, and healthcare IT professionals can and should hold out for the trifecta: better patient outcomes, with a superior patient experience, at lower cost.

The results of that simple mission include automated systems, more effective management, and—for the healthcare systems that can get the transition done—more readily available staff and resources to serve the nation’s veterans, military families, and government employees.

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