Choosing & Completing the Most Important Healthcare IT Projects

By John Lynch, MBA | Chief Executive Officer | October 1, 2019

One of the most problematic mindsets we see our clients adopt when running their healthcare organizations is viewing the organization’s various departments- revenue cycle, claims and billing, information technology, front office and clinical care, for example– as independent of one another. However, by adopting a more holistic mindset, organizational leaders can build a system where the healthcare IT department supports the revenue cycle and finance departments, while also supporting efficiency and quality patient care for physicians.

By looking at the impact of your entire operation from the perspective of unity and interdepartmental collaboration, the clients we serve gain a greater sense of clarity, efficiency, and efficacy.

For example, many healthcare organizations run into a problem when their physicians are lacking education on how to use the systems and technology the organization has in place to support the revenue cycle department. While no one will argue that a physician’s primary focus should be on patient care, having physicians go through the education process to learn the systems in place can save the billing department countless hours of having to fix inaccurate codes, fill in gaps required for reimbursement and reporting, and dealing with denied claims later on.

In order to anticipate, plan for, and counteract these challenges, healthcare organizations can leverage the power of their IT departments by choosing, prioritizing, and completing the most important healthcare IT projects.

At John Lynch & Associates, we guide our clients through a strategy-focused process of maximizing the power and potential of the healthcare IT department for the betterment of the entire staff, providers, and patient populations as a whole.

Finding Alignment

Healthcare IT success begins with building an IT strategy. Specifically, that IT strategy requires an understanding of the overarching corporate strategy and goals, and ensuring it aligns with those stated goals.

Oftentimes, when an IT team selects projects to work on, they work in a vacuum and choose projects without any formal methodology. Then, when the IT team begins working on numerous, disconnected projects without a strategic roadmap, they often become overloaded with too many projects and unclear priorities.

The chosen projects may not even be the most important projects that align with where the organization as a whole is going. As a result, resources are being used up but not necessarily accomplishing and completing projects efficiently – and certainly not accomplishing goals that are aligned with where the CEO, CMO, COO, and Board of Directors desire for the organization to go.

When there is a disconnect between IT and the rest of the corporate chain, the department needs to press pause, regroup, get in touch with the organization’s goals, and create a strategy for aligning the power of the healthcare IT department with those goals.

With the guidance of the CIO and an IT steering committee made up of stakeholders throughout the organization, the IT team can ensure that the projects that are being selected to work on are manageable, the resources are available, and the project is in alignment with the entire organization.

Identifying Healthcare IT Priorities

Once the goals are set for the organization, IT leaders can then and only then determine how to achieve the IT goals, building IT strategies that must be adhered to for successful execution.

The first step in determining which strategies need to be deployed is prioritizing or ranking the listed projects based on urgency and layers of connectedness. For example, if there are three healthcare IT projects that require a particular system to be in place, then that system needs to be implemented first and becomes a higher priority.

The key to prioritizing healthcare IT projects is assessing the projects as they relate to goals at the corporate level. With that high, overarching view, IT leaders can then begin to determine which projects truly need to be worked on first.

For example, I recently served as the interim CIO for a hospital that had a list of nearly 100 projects. With the small local IT staff they had, this list was insurmountable. My task then, was to help them decipher which projects on the list best aligned with the goals of the organization. From there, we narrowed that aligned list down to the top five highest priority projects.

By triaging the projects in this way, we were able to dedicate 85 percent of the organization’s IT department resources to those projects and accomplish more by refocusing our energy and resources – and we also did so at a much faster pace.

As a ripple effect, those completed projects were then having a much greater impact on the organization as a whole, which is the underlying mission and purpose of any healthcare IT department: to advance healthcare by supporting positive patient outcomes, improving operations, creating efficiencies for providers, and increasing profitability through the use of technology.

A pivotal part of achieving success with this methodology is ensuring that the CIO is working closely with other corporate divisions and departments to build confidence that the organization’s top priorities align with the rest of the organization. Executive team input is absolutely critical to successful IT project management.

Delegating & Allocating Resources

With the overarching organizational strategy in mind, the goals set, and the projects prioritized, the next step is to ensure the appropriate internal resources are selected or the work is outsourced to the right team. In particular, the CIO must also have confidence that the internal resources are available to dedicate adequate time to the project or projects. When this is not possible, bringing in outside help is critical to success.

Too often healthcare organizations assume that their healthcare IT departments should be able to handle it all – maintenance of current day-to-day operations as well as growth and new implementations.

However, if your internal IT team is already at or near maximum capacity managing the daily tasks required, adding a large project to the mix will be a recipe for failure. Rather, CIOs can save their organizations immense amounts of time, money, and internal resources by knowing when to outsource such projects.

Spending adequate money upfront for additional temporary resources, such as a project management team or subject matter experts for the overall project usually pays off because you will have a successful project at the end that is actually making an impact. For instance, many healthcare organizations spend tens of thousands of dollars on a new technology product that promises to advance their workflows and streamline billing, reimbursements, and reporting, but since no one on the internal team is a subject matter expert in that product, it is not implemented correctly and the organization fails to reap the benefits of the product itself.

Successful Kick-Off & Optimization

Finally, all organizations aim to kickoff projects within agreed to timelines. The key to achieving this elusive goal is to communicate effectively at all levels of leadership and keep visibility throughout the organization to build momentum and accountability. In turn, this ensures the greatest chance for success.

Executive leadership is critical and must be present from kickoff through implementation, go-live, and most importantly during the post-go-live processes. While C-suite and board-level leadership often assume they can delegate projects to the IT department and then check-in at or near the due date, successful IT departments are equipped with a CIO who is accessible to the execution team at all times.

The purpose of the CIO is to provide strategic direction and guidance. Not only does accessibility ensure the CIO is aware of the incremental wins and setbacks of a given project, but also the presence ensures the project as a whole never loses momentum or veers off course from the original goals and strategy.

When upper-level leadership is engaged from beginning to end, IT departments are able to thrive. A CIO’s role is to help the IT team get over hurdles, mitigate risks, and ensure that there is proper funding and visibility.

While the amount of time a CIO provides to the overall projects is going to be different at different stages of each project, the most valuable resource a CIO can give his or her team is consistent, reliable leadership, support, and accountability.

When leaders are engaged and present, there is more buy-in and emotional investment from all those involved. From a stakeholder standpoint, other members of the organization are more receptive to the change when they know it is line with the overall mission of the organization.

Ultimately, that is what we are all working toward together: a mission of advancing healthcare through innovation and leadership. Using this methodology, healthcare IT departments can enjoy more streamline project experiences and more successes.

If your organization needs help implementing a custom strategy, get in touch with us to speak with one of our expert consultants. We are here to support you as you care for our communities.

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