The importance of assessing critical IT system investments

Executives are looking more to their chief information officers, data experts and IT team overall to improve care and hospital operations more than they ever did in the past. That's because the awareness is growing that IT, whether via analytics or electronic systems, can be an incredibly effective tool for providers. But that doesn't mean every hefty IT investment is a good one.

At a panel at Becker's 2nd Annual CIO/HIT + Revenue Cycle Conference in Chicago on July 27, a group of experts shared their insights on the best methods to use when measuring the success or failure of potentially transformative technologies. One way to go about doing so is to boil projects down to their return on investment, says Jayashree Raman, senior vice president and CIO of Cooper University Healthcare in Camden, N.J.

"My mantra is 'All IT projects are business-driven and IT-enabled,'" Ms. Raman says. "We have an IT governance team that looks at ROI on multiyear projects based on qualitative and quantitative outcomes that the business has defined. As long as the business can justify these projects in terms of ROI, they'll be successful."

For many, ROI is best measured by looking at an IT initiative's impact on patient outcomes. The larger the measurable improvement in patient care, the more money a hospital stands to save, make and the more good it can do for patients. But measuring and linking patient outcomes to IT is a long and difficult process.

"Our internal running joke is we've never seen any project meet its ROI, because to do your due diligence and follow up with measuring ROI takes years," says Nayan Patel, director of information technology for The Heart Hospital Baylor in Dallas. "Because of that I'm focused on looking at what are the ultimate outcomes you're trying to improve, so monitoring the measurement of those outcomes is what we focus on."

As a way to manage the mountains of data that various electronic systems collect in hospitals, some organizations have begun to develop in-house integrated data portals, according to Mr. Patel. These can be used to make sense of and standardize disparate data that may contain the seeds of important clinical insights and the evidence of ROI. 

Bradley Clegg, DO, CMIO for MetroHealth in Wyoming, Mich., says this kind of data standardization can also demonstrate to physicians that the IT they sometimes struggle with does give them useful insights. Getting physicians and other healthcare workers on board with a standardized method of data collection will make assessing IT investments a smoother process. 

Taking an approach that brings clinical leaders into the fold can also shore up Ms. Raman's business-driven but IT-enabled mantra for producing ROI, she says.

Upon joining Cooper University Healthcare, Ms. Raman says one of her earliest projects was an IT implementation she worked on with the system's CNO. Once they were ready to roll out the project, Ms. Raman asked her CNO who the business-side point person was going to be. When she was told no one from the business side was ready to oversee the rollout, Ms. Raman pumped the brakes on the implementation.

"There's no system that goes in without support from a business partner," Ms. Raman says. "I told her I needed someone from that side of things to drive this, and we will be there to enable the technology. We aren't going to start the project until someone is willing to take ownership of it. Every initiative needs to be a synergistic relationship."

More articles on health IT:

Cerner still most-used vendor for hospitals attesting to MU 
5 Tips for getting the most out of your healthcare data analytics program 
A frontier hospital that measures success by technology 

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