You’ve decided to set up a benefits realization program. Maybe your organization is implementing an EHR. Maybe you are aggressively pursuing optimization or maybe you are just under pressure from the CEO to prove that your multi-million dollar EHR investment wasn’t a bust. In the current environment, proving return on investment for major capital expenditures has never been more important. Jobs are at stake.
You’ve done your research and know that organizations that demonstrate substantial savings and value from their EHRs leverage a benefits driven method for implementation and beyond.
The first step is simply to select benefits. Not…so…fast. This step is not simple at all! Blindly stepping into the abyss of poorly selected benefits targets can doom your benefits realization program before it ever gets off the ground. Selecting the right benefits targets can actually be one of the most difficult components of a successful benefits realization program. But surrounded by a plethora of potential key performance indicators, leaders can be left scratching their heads about how to proceed.
So how can you be successful? The key to identifying appropriate benefits is having a keen understanding of what it is going to take for the organization to be successful in the next three to five years and beyond. This requires an intimate understanding of the strategic plan, and for that reason it is critical that senior leadership be involved in the process of selecting benefits.
Benefits are far more likely to be realized when they are able to be quantified. While quantification of benefits is the norm for financial or revenue cycle side benefits, quantifying clinical benefits can be a big challenge. Many clinical benefits have traditionally been classified as “intangible” or “soft” benefits without specific ability to measure or quantify those benefits. On more than one occasion I have seen “Decrease Average Length of Stay” or “Decrease Readmissions” as a desired clinical benefits but with zero dollars associated with that benefit. Really? Will decreasing length of stay (appropriately of course) really not save the organization tens of thousands of dollars each year? Yes, you argue, we know that decreasing length of stay will obviously decrease costs, but we have no way to quantify how much.
My answer to that is, you’d better get creative and find a way to measure it. Douglas Hubbard’s book, How to Measure Anything, may be a good place to start. Work with your financial team. Study the literature to see what others are doing. There are not yet universally accepted models for calculating many clinical benefits, but health systems can utilize industry best practices, existing organizational methods, and other tools to assign value and the ability to measure to clinical benefits. The reality is that to be successful in achieving clinical benefits, improvement must be measurable and quantifiable.
The other key to appropriate benefits selection is to focus your efforts. There may be many potential benefit targets that will support the strategic plan, but expanding to more that 15-20 focus areas will dilute efforts and decrease the likelihood of significant success in realizing benefits. You should focus on high value targets. Where have other organizations had success? What are the areas that your organization needs to focus on to be successful in a value-based payment model? By focusing on these high value areas, health systems can ensure the best return on investment in capital intensive technology investments like EHRs.
Finally, once your benefit focus areas are established you need to establish baseline performance and establish targets, including the time required to achieve benefits. This requires a specific way to measure performance (even if it is unconventional) and defining when benefits are expected and when performance should be measured. The time required to achieve benefits in each focus area may vary widely. Setting expectations up front prevents premature discontinuation of measurement or writing off a target as unachievable because it hasn’t achieved the expected benefits a year after your implementation is complete. Some benefits may take as much as three to five years to fully achieve.
If you have decided to implement a benefits realization program you are making a giant step in the right direction. Selecting the right benefit targets exponentially increases your chances of success.
To learn more about benefits realization download the Impact Advisors white paper Realizing Clinical Benefits from EHR Investments.