Low-hanging administrative tasks prevent physicians from working at “the top of their license” and aggravate burnout.
Physicians are experts in their vocation. They constantly manage complex medical challenges, diagnose patients, and address health maintenance all while providing the best counsel to patients on their care and overall well-being. But low-hanging administrative tasks prevent physicians from working at “the top of their license” and aggravate burnout that is already exacerbated by a workforce shortage.
AI-based data analytics can break through these operational barriers and provide physicians with time back in their day to focus on patient care, but health system leaders must prioritize physician buy-in to achieve a successful implementation. This starts with a trust-driven collaboration between health system leaders and physicians, and mutual agreement that data informs decision-making, improves operational efficiency, and strengthens care delivery.
A successful model for this method is the airline industry, where highly trained pilots are the equivalent of physicians. Pilots could not fly a plane without the proper automation, instruments, and real-time control feedback needed to make the plane function. Hospitals are learning that physicians cannot perform these analogous functions manually and by themselves and would benefit from technology to propel them to better performance. For hospitals to ‘fly right,’ they must implement the proper data and operational tools needed and wanted by physicians, letting them excel in the most important area – patient care.
Making it personal to engage stakeholders
Before large hospitals were established and health systems became the norm, individual physicians and smaller practices had their own approaches and “ways of doing things.” As practices came together under larger health systems, standard processes needed to be implemented to streamline operations in areas like scheduling OR blocks, placing referrals, or sending patients through the ED.
As hospitals and health systems emerge from the pandemic and struggle with high labor costs and rising patient volume, they face another operations tipping point – data-driven tools are critical to ensure efficient care delivery. Those in favor of implementing new technology may face resistance from physicians who have tech burnout or fear disruptive change management. To address this resistance, it’s critical to first understand root cause problems and then communicate the value and impact the technology will deliver.
The first question to ask physicians needs to be, “what is the underlying problem that you are trying to solve?” For example, health leaders should not rush to create dashboards on open OR block time and physicians should not request backlog reports before identifying and aligning on the root cause that needs to be solved. It’s helpful to begin by educating caregivers on waste and variation, identifying where their own pain points and frictions contribute to organizational operations issues, and how a data-driven approach can yield improvements.
When launching a new technology project, start small with specific and achievable first steps. Data transformation fails when systems try to “boil the ocean” and accomplish all their goals at the same time. Focus on delivering results that make an immediate impact on physician stakeholders and make their jobs easier and more rewarding. Does the new technology remove clicks rather than adding them? Does it make data easier to access when needed? Does it learn and predict patterns to eliminate guesswork? When project successes naturally engage stakeholders, it helps build a self-perpetuating, data-driven culture.
Demonstrating results to create champions
The nine-hospital system Community Health Network (CHN) experienced firsthand how important it was to engage physicians in its data analytics transformation. They faced a challenging operational problem: improving efficiency in the operating room. CHN leaders partnered closely with surgeons and surgical staff to identify pain points in the scheduling process. They worked with clinicians and stakeholders to frame their problems through an analytics lens. Leaders highlighted the value that could be gained by adopting a new analytics tool for the OR, including performing more OR cases, increasing surgeon access, and eliminating manual schedules by hospital staff.
This physician alignment helped lead to a successful implementation with an AI-based analytics company that had a proven track record in OR optimization. Two months after implementing a new analytics tool, the team at CHN unlocked an additional 1,250 hours of OR time beyond allocated blocks being requested and approved, maximizing physicians’ time and skillset, and driving better patient care. Clinicians experienced firsthand how analytics-driven scheduling relieved them of time-consuming operational tasks and helped them deliver care at the top of their license. This experience kept them continually engaged and created not just users of the tool, but champions.
When organizations step back and partner with physicians to discover the root of roadblocks and bring them on the transformation journey, they can identify opportunities to implement technology that helps physicians work more effectively, efficiently, and thoughtfully. This leads to not only physician buy-in for the current project, but helps create a forward-thinking, data-driven culture in the organization.
Patrick McGill, MD, EVP, is Chief Transformation Officer at Community Health Network
Sanjeev Agrawal is President and Chief Operating Officer of LeanTaaS