Business process management in healthcare: reforging medical services

Business process management in healthcare: reforging medical services

September 8, 2021

Inga Shugalo

Healthcare Analyst

As in many other domains of the economy and society, success in the healthcare sector does not simply depend on the resources you can rely on (although they still represent a big plus) but also on the good practices to properly leverage and optimize the assets at your disposal. Nowadays, one of the most powerful tools in this regard is business process management, also known as BPM.

BPM in healthcare encompasses a set of methods and technologies aimed at analyzing, optimizing, harmonizing and, eventually, automating the clinical workflow through the holistic re-engineering of its sub-components, namely healthcare processes.

Let's find out the potential impact of business process management consulting and solutions on the healthcare industry.

Why we need BPM in healthcare

Healthcare has never been one of the fastest sectors to embrace technological innovations, rather relying on manual procedures to fulfill clinical and administrative duties. Such an archaic and conservative approach, as you can imagine, could not age particularly well in the face of the increasing legislative regulation that has swept the sector and the consequent increase in paperwork. Not to mention the peaks in patient turnout due to the last health crisis.

Fortunately, great strides have been made in recent years as the pandemic, by pushing the finite capabilities and resources available to the healthcare industry to the limit, has acted as the ultimate catalyst for the shift of the entire sector towards a much more digitalized model.

In its 2020 Digital Transformation: Shaping the Future of European Healthcare report, for example, Deloitte pointed out that COVID-19 increased the adoption of digital technologies to support clinicians’ ways of working to a great extent according to 28.7% of the European organizations surveyed, and to some extent for 36.6% of them.

Adoption of digital technologies in healthcare, 2020

This growth in the adoption of digital technologies in healthcare has been accompanied by a steady increase in digital health venture funding, which reached $14.7 billion invested during the first half of 2021 in the United States alone, as reported by Rock Health.

Digital health funding in the US

However, the mere expansion of the technological stack available to the healthcare industry is not necessarily a game-changer if it's not combined with a radical rethinking of business processes and the correct implementation of these new technologies into the clinical workflow. And here's where business process management comes into play.

How business process management helps

Using a sculptural metaphor, we might say that while technology is like the chisel handled to shape a statue, business process management represents the blueprint that guides us while using all our tools. What we want to remodel, in our case, is not a block of marble but healthcare processes that we believe are sub-optimal and not particularly synergistic with each other.

This reforging procedure is carried out by deploying a vast array of technological tools encompassing data analytics, operational business intelligence, IoT, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and robotic process automation (regarding the latter, check out our article where we explore the differences between BPM and RPA).

For example, BPM systems can be integrated with AI-powered cognitive capabilities, such as computer vision and NLP algorithms in healthcare that allow easily extracting and digitalizing valuable data from clinical documents. We can also leverage RPA bots to automate the matching of appointment requests with the actual availability of physicians. Furthermore, it's possible to harness machine learning's analytical potential to better assess clinical workflow performance.

Some of these technologies can be typically found in a variety of BPM software (BPMS), which embodies the principles of this discipline and is developed by high-tech vendors to assist enterprises in reworking and enhancing their processes. For example, BPMS functionalities can help you:

  • Visualize your business functions and processes, for example by representing them as easy-to-understand flowcharts.
  • Redesign business processes suffering from inefficiencies and bottlenecks.
  • Analyze and measure the outcome of your processes according to specific key performance indicators (KPIs) after executing and monitoring them.
  • Fine-tune these processes based on data gathered in the previous phases.
  • Automate repetitive and time-consuming activities via software bots.
  • Manage task assignments, statuses, roles, and history with intuitive dashboards.
Example of a dashboard from Itransition’s healthcare BPM solution

As you can see, the range of possibilities offered by business process management systems is rather vast and can be further expanded by integrating BPMS with additional technologies. This remarkable flexibility makes BPM systems particularly valuable for supporting industries such as healthcare, which has often been shown to suffer from a well-known rigidity.

At the same time, turning to business process management consultants may be a wise choice to fully understand the potential benefits and implications of implementing BPM software in your healthcare organization. Meanwhile, we can get an idea of its impact by taking a look at some of its main applications and use cases related to purely clinical processes, administrative functions, and legal compliance respectively.

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1. Enhancing clinical processes

The typical workflow in any hospital presents complex, problematic and unexpected enough situations to inspire another twenty seasons of ER. Every day, doctors and nurses face unpredictable events while dealing with a general lack of clinical process standardization and coordination among different departments. This results in inefficiencies, bottlenecks, delays, and, last but not least, an increase in the costs incurred by the healthcare system.

Example of clinical flowchart highlighting several process delays

Business process management software is a valuable tool in this regard, assisting healthcare professionals in setting up and performing various clinical activities including therapeutic treatments, rehabilitation exercises, exams, and so on. For example, BPMS can:

  • Help the medical staff understand the processes they participate in, their role in the overall workflow, and the various relationships between the different collaborating employees through the use of the aforementioned flowcharts.
  • Centralize and therefore make process management more coherent and cohesive through a single command center. This “hive mind” takes care of triggering specific clinical tasks under certain conditions (such as an emergency intervention request if a patient is in a life-threatening situation) and assigning them to the most appropriate employees. This is typically done by taking into account their current workload, medical specialty, and rank requirements, but also the main triage parameters.
  • Improve treatment cycle monitoring by automatically extracting patient data and storing it in clinical databases via RPA bots for future reference. This procedure can significantly speed up and streamline the work of physicians when diagnosing, selecting proper therapies, and assisting patients during the post-discharge phase.

Talking about post-discharge procedures, a striking example of BPM's impact on clinical processes comes from the Bambino Gesù Children’s Hospital in Rome, one of the major pediatric polyclinics in Europe. The famous Italian hospital has implemented a business process management solution to coordinate the medical activities related to the follow-up phase of children undergoing kidney transplantation. In fact, these young patients must follow a rigorous clinical check-up program for the rest of their lives.

Business process management software is a valuable tool in this regard, assisting healthcare professionals in setting up and performing various clinical activities including therapeutic treatments, rehabilitation exercises, exams, and so on. For example, BPMS can:  Help the medical staff understand the processes they participate in, their role in the overall workflow, and the various relationships between the different collaborating employees through the use of the aforementioned flowcharts. Centralize and

This BPM software, deployed to assist clinicians in planning and managing this long-term care pathway, has ensured a 60% reduction in the amount of time and resources devoted to management and administrative purposes, allowing doctors and nurses to focus on patient care activities.

2. Streamlining administrative tasks

Healthcare is not just a matter of clinicians and nurses. Many other staff members ensure a smooth workflow within hospitals and clinics by dealing with significant amounts of paperwork on a daily basis. Business process management systems can help them as well, assisting these professionals in performing various administrative duties related to human resources, accounting, maintenance, and so on.

The combination of employees and business process management software results in a lower rate of human errors, fewer delays, less stress for the staff, and an improved patient experience. For example, such solutions can:

  • Enhance working schedule management through a centralized system that connects staff and HR professionals.
  • Efficiently manage EHRs and integrate them with multiple hospital systems to ensure interoperability in healthcare and avoid any clinical data losses.
  • Assist employees in payment processing and billing procedures by automatically extracting patient information from hospital databases and re-inserting it in standardized forms to generate invoices.
  • Speed up maintenance processes by autonomously triggering a request for specialist intervention in case of failures in the hospital systems.
  • Improve medical equipment procurement by streamlining hospital inventory management via RFID asset tracking tools or other devices belonging to the internet of medical things and automating restocking procedures if the stocks fall below a certain threshold.
  • Streamline patient scheduling with an integrated online booking system that may also send pre-appointment reminders and flag any applications in case of missing data.
Example of an appointment scheduling process simplified via BPM

3. Ensuring compliance

After this examination regarding the effects of BPM on both purely clinical and administrative processes, it may be worth dedicating a space of its own to an aspect of the healthcare sector that has remarkably grown in importance in recent years — compliance.

This industry, already subjected to stringent regulations because of its link with particularly delicate social aspects such as the psychophysical well-being of citizens, has been further hit by a wave of legislative initiatives related to financial, legal and data protection matters. In this regard, think about the GDPR in Europe or the HIPAA and the ACA in the United States. Luckily, business process management systems are well equipped to deal with such challenges, helping healthcare organizations ensure legal compliance by:

  • Automating the processing of employee expense and benefits data, salary payment procedures, and various reporting tasks for the HR departments to comply with labor legislation.
  • Compiling tax documentation and other accounting tasks faster and with superior accuracy than humans thanks to software robots.
  • Ensuring the punctual payment to suppliers (i.e. Accounts Payable processes) thanks to the automated management and routing of incoming invoices and the extraction of relevant data from such documents.
  • Allowing rapid reaction and resolution to unexpected and not necessarily clinical events that may have legal implications.

Regarding the last point, let’s clarify this with an example coming from one of Itransition's solutions, specifically developed for BPM automation of UK care homes. Among the functionalities offered by this tool, we can find a feature to report accidents or issues, which triggers and automatically assigns a series of tasks in order to handle the situations as fast as possible. This means that, in the event of a patient escaping from a nursing home, all employees responsible for their stay will be alerted by the BPM system and asked to contact the police and the patient’s relatives, as well as to draw up all the required documents.

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Are we ready for BPM?

The healthcare industry represents an ever-expanding market that has recently hit new investment peaks, driven largely by the global pandemic. According to CB Insights' 2020 The State of Healthcare report, the global healthcare startup funding set a new quarterly record in Q2’20, surpassing the previous all-time high of Q3’18.

Global healthcare investment, 2017-2020

On the other hand, the healthcare sector is the perfect demonstration that we cannot rely solely on the sheer amount of resources to solve our problems, as we may be dealing with assets that are simply not scalable. In the medical field, these assets are highly skilled personnel (think of the terrible shortage of professionals compared to the workload during the recent pandemic) and, even more, time.

Business process management represents a valid tool to fill these gaps, ensuring a significant increase in staff productivity and speeding up clinical and administrative processes. However, its implementation may prove challenging. In fact, this industry typically suffers from a certain imbalance towards purely medical know-how over the technical and managerial skillsets required to effectively adopt high-impact solutions such as a BPM system.

That's why the adoption of business process management software should always be carried out alongside technological retraining of the staff involved. It might also be useful to establish some sort of centralized governance that coordinates and supervises the BPMS deployment operations, as the standard hospital workflow is typically fragmented and scattered among different departments.

Such initiatives will ensure a smoother implementation of this powerful tool, which may represent the real ace in the hole for an essential sector like healthcare.

Hippocrates said: "Cure sometimes, treat often, comfort always." Well, technology allowed us to cure better, which is certainly a great thing. But BPM may give us the opportunity to harmonize the medical workflow, wasting less time on trivial tasks and focusing on something equally important: being a comfort for patients.