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Information technology as a foundation for growth

Analysis  |  By Christopher Cheney  
   December 16, 2019

Examples of electronic health records promoting growth include using EHRs to manage patient bed utilization.

This article appears in the November/December 2019 edition of HealthLeaders magazine. It is a sidebar to the cover story, "Growth Opportunities: How Health Systems Position Themselves Under Pressure."

Information technology such as electronic health records—particularly as they mature with new capabilities—can support growth strategies at health systems and hospitals as they grapple with business challenges including reduced reimbursement rates.

"I always look at information technology initiatives as a way to enable growth. Basically, these initiatives give you the tools and resources to achieve the outcomes that you need. Electronic health records definitely fit in that category," says Michael Browning, MBA, CFO of OhioHealth in Columbus, Ohio.

Investments in information technology generate several organizational benefits, Browning says.

"It allows health systems and hospitals to become more competitive and quicker to market for new services. For example, health systems and hospitals that can afford to invest in an electronic health record can provide EHR services to other organizations that may not be able to afford those kinds of services. So, having a good EHR base does help support growth."

Other examples of EHRs promoting growth include using EHRs to manage patient bed utilization and EHR innovations to reduce administrative burden on clinical care teams, he says.

After devoting substantial time, manpower, and financial resources into development of EHRs, these investments are starting to pay off for health systems and hospitals, says Subra Sripada, MS, managing director and technology effectiveness leader at Navigant.

"Broadly speaking in the hospital industry, the past decade has been spent implementing electronic medical record systems, with an eye on achieving meaningful use and not getting penalized by the federal government. For many of these EMRs such as Epic and Cerner, most healthcare organizations are not leveraging the capabilities and benefits of these systems to solve their business and clinical issues," he says.

Generating more value from EHRs represents the biggest opportunity in healthcare information technology, with collaboration between clinical and IT staffs, says Sripada. "You can bring these people together to address patient flow issues and any number of operational issues to have better automation."

Harnessing AI and predictive analytics to support growth

Novant Health is adopting a new artificial intelligence capability that will position the Winston-Salem, North Carolina–based health system to manage and support growth, says Eric Eskioglu, MD, executive vice president and chief medical officer.

Novant has contracted with a Seattle-based AI company to deploy a machine learning and predictive analytics system that can manage patient flow, particularly in the emergency department. The technology is designed to reduce delays, interruptions, and cancellations that are common in the ED setting. The system predicts patterns of patient demand, which can allow operational leaders to plan staffing levels, Eskioglu says.

"Most healthcare institutions have to send out daily census reports for each hospital down to the unit level on spreadsheets, which tell you how many patients you have on a given day and how it reflects on the labor—how many nurses and physicians you need," he says. 

With this AI technology, we will be able to look at more data and account for the impact of scheduled events in the community, Eskioglu says.

"For example, we had the Democratic Party convention here four years ago, and we have the Republican convention coming up. We know what our upsurge was during the Democratic convention—how many patients showed up at the ER, what kind of conditions they had, and how many more nurses we had to get. So, we are going to be ready before the Republican convention to be able to predict—based on the attendees expected to come into town—how many patients we are going to see in the ER and how we can handle the flow," he says.

This technology can support growth at the operational level.

"The patient flow through the hospital needs to be so efficient that we sort out the patients; and, as they come in, we can predict when they are going to be discharged. Then we know how many nurses and how many physicians we need," Eskioglu says.

The 2019 HealthLeaders analytics in healthcare survey, Investing For the Future: Analytics, AI, and ROI provides insight on healthcare executives' views on the value of analytics technology. One hundred twenty-eight leaders across the country were surveyed on this topic.

In the survey, respondents describe their organizations' ROI for analytics: 41% say their ROI is acceptable, 30% say ROI is good, and 14% say ROI is very good. Only 16% say their ROI is poor (12%) or very poor (4%).

The survey respondents also predict their investments in analytics in the next three years: 63% say their organization plans to increase analytics investments, with 35% saying that investments will stay the same. A scant 2% report that their organization plans to decrease analytics investments.

Photo credit: Nongkran_ch/

Christopher Cheney is the CMO editor at HealthLeaders.


Most healthcare organizations are not leveraging the full potential of their electronic health record systems.

Novant Health is deploying machine learning and predictive analytics technology that can manage patient flow.

In a recent HealthLeaders survey, 63% of healthcare executives said their organization plans to increase investments in analytics.

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