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Benchmarking or Brow-Pounding?

March 1, 1998
by root
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ON ANY BUSINESS’S path toward financial strength, strategies for measuring success are an obvious institutional priority. Yet healthcare is slow to adopt the benchmarking tactics that have worked so well in other industries. While most of the easy cost-cutting in healthcare has already been achieved, improving patient outcomes relative to services and costs remains a huge, largely untapped (and worrisome) source of new efficiencies in healthcare.

Ready or not, benchmarking is here, but the how of implementing benchmarking strategies is at least as important as the what. The fact remains that genuine improvements in performance will be wrought not by top-down mandates but by employing the intelligence, resourcefulness and commitment of every valued contributor--from materials managers to surgeons. Their ready access to dependable institutional data, plus a solid education in how to use it, will yield more progress via moment-by-moment smart decisions than all the procedural dictates one could devise.

HealthPartners in Minneapolis saw quick results when it started making patient satisfaction data available on the Web: Individual clinic performance indicators such as immunization rates and Saturday hours improved, according to CEO George Halvorson, speaking in January at the Business Week/Lawson Software CIO Summit in Phoenix.

But healthcare executives should be particularly thoughtful about the downside of data gathering and availability--lest the data be compromised by those whom it would expose.

William Bria, MD, cites his experience at the University of Michigan, where staff members decided more than three years ago to use data to help decrease their above-national-average critical care costs. By tracking initial diagnoses and treatment tendered in the first 24 hours of admission, the staff were able to significantly reduce hospitalization costs as well as emergency room costs, according to Bria.

But usable results require honest data upfront, says Bria. To get it you have to provide a safe place to work. "If you don’t make it safe, people won’t do it. You don’t punish people. You go for the collective change--not the individual."

Bria advises anyone undertaking outcomes evaluation to make sure a "detailed understanding of the process of care" precedes the measurement criteria--then get all the stakeholders to agree on the metric.

Though getting the data is the hardest part, such internal data coupled with outcomes in quality and satisfaction provide a truly new opportunity to improve performance.

This is where good information systems make the biggest difference--and where they can support your highest objective: better care, best cost.


Editorial Director
Terry Monahan

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