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Automation and the Healthcare Cost Curve

Philip Betbeze, for HealthLeaders Media, April 30, 2012

Reducing headcount
Layoffs are a touchy subject around healthcare. Most times, they're seen as a short-sighted desperation move by hospitals seeking short-term survival. But it doesn't have to be that way. Done systematically, and as a result of innovation, valued employees don't have to be cut loose en masse along with the poor performers or malcontents you'd certainly like to get rid of. Instead, valued employees can be reassigned to higher-level tasks or retrained.

At Parkland, Dragovits says the health system was able to shrink its headcount of financial counselors by 70 recently (from about 200 to 130), simply because it found a way to do automated eligibility rechecks for patients who receive public assistance to pay for their medical care. That's a huge portion of the patient population at a public hospital like Parkland.

"We're looking at automating everything in the revenue cycle area," says Dragovits. "We're using more automation for eligibility rechecks, for example, where in the past, people would have to come in and see a counselor to requalify. We can now do that 100% automated with some of the database systems out there."

From a delivery system perspective, Parkland is also working on a mail-order model for its pharmacies within Parkland's 11 community clinics. Currently many of its clinics have their own pharmacy, "which is very expensive," says Dragovits.

Under a new potential model the system is considering, all prescriptions that had been filled at these individual pharmacies could be done in an automated central pharmacy using robotics to fill and mail prescriptions.

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