Operations & Management

How to Drive Improvement through Automation

By TMCnet Special Guest
Chris Cashwell
  |  July 02, 2012

This article originally appeared in the June 2012 issue of Customer Interaction Solutions

In healthcare and in business, data insight typically leads to improved outcomes.  In order to capture and enable the use of data, organizations need to extend their staffs’ skills by giving them high-performance tools that can accelerate mission critical tasks through automation. Automation is an opportunity, not a threat.  

One need to look no further than the auto industry to see the benefits associated with automation.

The automobile industry initially applied automation to isolated areas of production, primarily to process operations such as the forging of crankshafts. This resulted in a pattern of integrated manufacturing steps, with functions performed by automated equipment followed by manual operations requiring human dexterity and flexibility. Business intelligence also knows a thing or two about automation as its primary responsibility is to get more out of operational data that is generated by business processes. For example, the BI group within a software company may automate the collection of pricing and competitive market info from millions of sources and compile the data into the company’s BI system to make more informed decisions.

Today, health care organizations need to start thinking about how and where they can drive improvement through automation. A recent Premier Health Alliance study reported that unnecessary labor expenses can exceed five percent of a hospital’s labor budget (equaling more than $6 million per year for an average-sized hospital). In that same study, it was found that excess readmissions and inappropriate lengths of stay were totaling up to 15 percent of a hospital’s annual budget, a cost directly linked to an organizations inability to extract efficiently and effectively data needed to avoid these circumstances. The burdens mentioned above are at the heart of the health care system’s battle with inefficiency. However, they can be addressed with automated clinical documentation and language understanding technologies, such as IBM’s Watson supercomputer – best known for its appearance on Jeopardy!.

At the core of many health care IT solutions is the promise to turn data into information. This ability to find a needle in a haystack and find it consistently and efficiently is a game changer.  A recent IBM study suggests that up to 80 percent of clinical documentation is outside of a template, living in what many refer to as a giant “word blob.” Up to now, hospitals have relied on manual, hands-on document searches to find the information they need. By applying language understanding technology, providers can now automate data identification and extraction and, in doing so, empower employees to get their job done more efficiently without sacrificing quality of care.

Let’s look at one example of how automated understanding technology can cut efficiencies and impact patient care:  

Diagnosis and Symptom Tracking – Everyday, organizations run the risk of improper coding and billing based on misinformation associated with patient status or length of stay. Without an underlying condition such as a heart problem, a patient complaining of syncope would not warrant admission to a hospital, for example. If this patient is admitted and no other diagnosis is found, the hospital may over-bill for the stay – subjecting them to an audit and return of the excess charges to Medicare. However, with the power of automated language understanding technology, clinical queries can be created on demand to search all documentation for instances of syncope, and then cross reference the search against 3,000-plus combinations of diagnoses to find only those cases where no other diagnosis is noted. The result is a query list that clarifies  syncope patients with no other diagnosis from others, a list that can lead to savings of up to $1 million or more per year in revenue at an average-sized hospital. Real-time, automated queries into vast amounts of clinical data are powerful and in this case can ensure that patients with an underlying heart problem are appropriately cared for and kept overnight for monitoring.

Today’s automated technologies give a new meaning to the word automation and put the power of time, resources and added intelligence in the hands of those who need it most – businesses. Whether it is an auto plant or a software company, automation is providing opportunities to leverage staff talent for more humanistic, purpose-filled tasks. As shown through research findings and the clinical example above, automated data identification and extraction is important in health care; it gives clinical staff meaningful insight into data that otherwise is not accessible at the point-of-care and creates valuable time for patient interaction and care. Ultimately, better data insight leads to improved outcomes.

Chris Cashwell is senior director of Nuance (News - Alert) Healthcare, Clinical Language Understanding/Business Development (www.nuance.com/for-healthcare/).

Edited by Stefania Viscusi