Automating Processes & Services in a Surgery Center: Q&A With Troy Clifton of Encircle Healthcare

Troy Clifton is vice president of sales and marketing for Encircle Healthcare, a provider of web-based automation and integration services for healthcare organizations.

Q: For ambulatory surgery centers to remain competitive and profitable, they need to regularly find ways to improve efficiency while, hopefully, reducing costs. One such way often suggested is automating processes and services. Why is automation a truly viable solution? What benefits does it offer?


Troy Clifton: If we look across the ASC industry, and really the healthcare industry as a whole, unlike most other industries there still remain numerous manual and redundant processes. At the simplest level, these manual processes contribute to substantial inefficiency, which translates to dollars wasted. What's more, they are often highly prone to error, which can have a negative impact on overall quality and performance. In today's challenging environment, more than ever facilities need to seek out ways to manage expenses, ensure full reimbursement and remain competitive by offering unsurpassed service to patients and stakeholders. Eliminating inefficient processes through automation is a key step facilities must make towards achieving these goals.


Q: What problems can arise from automation? How can ASCs overcome these challenges?


TC: Like almost any technology deployment, change management remains the number one obstacle that we encounter in our work. Often, when you take a process that was previously highly dependent on manual intervention and change it to a highly automated process utilizing technology, you must embrace it, and ensure your entire team is on board with the project and the end goal. This almost always means that workflow must be adapted in order to maximize the benefits of the new processes.


The other critical stage of making automation work requires that you carefully plan and configure all aspects of the tools you are utilizing. For example, any technology you employ must follow a set of rules that govern how it performs a certain task. In a sense, you have to teach the tool how to react to a certain event or trigger. If you get this wrong, the tool may not be as effective, or even worse, it may not output the desired result.


Q: What are some of the processes and services ASCs can automate today that they could not only a few years ago?


TC: In our work we visit and speak with providers and facilities across the country, and the one thing we see consistently is the endless shuffling of paper. Healthcare requires a community of stakeholders working together to provide quality care, and this requires an endless exchange of information and data between everyone involved. Until recently, exchanging this information relied almost entirely on faxing phoning, and other costly forms of communication. The matter is complicated by the multitude and variation of data repositories and systems used across the industry. New tools are emerging that make reliable and affordable exchange of data a reality. Today you can easily connect and share data across providers and facilities, thus eliminating the paper shuffle and redundancy associated with manually recreating data. As an example, up until recently in the ASC space, when a referring surgeon booked a case at a facility, that triggered a back and forth round of faxing documents, exchanging phone calls and re-keying the entire profile of a patient into the facility system. I often wonder how many claims get denied simply because someone incorrectly keyed in an ID number that was difficult to read on a fax. Providers now have better options and technologies that will enable them to exchange information electronically.


Q: What process and services will ASCs be able to automate in the near future?


TC: We see many other areas where facilities continue to employ highly manual efforts. Again, these are quite often centered on how stakeholders communicate. I believe we will continue to see greater acceptance of web-based portals and electronic services to tie physicians, patients, facilities and insurers together. If we can continue to chip away at redundancy and waste, we can find new ways to lower operating expenses and improve quality and service.


Q: What emerging technologies are driving and will drive automation?


TC: There are many factors at play here. A few years ago we talked a lot about market acceptance of technology, and how to overcome fears around moving processes into the cloud. Today, we see a shift, and the market not only accepts technology, they expect it. Improved security, wide-spread availability of high-speed connectivity, smartphones and other wireless devices all contribute to and support our goals of greater connectivity in healthcare. And it is with this connectivity that we can successfully eliminate many of the remaining manual aspects around providing care.


Q: If an ASC is considering moving a manual process to using a technology to automate the process, what steps does a facility need to take to ensure a smooth transition?


TC: Proper planning and thorough change management are keys to successfully applying any technology to your workflow. Define and set a clear goal, and establish reasonable expectations. For example, perhaps it is unreasonable to expect that a technology can replace a manual process 100 percent of the time. However, if you can eliminate 80 percent of the work associated with a task, and then craft a modified workflow around how you complete the remaining 20 percent, there is no reason you won't be successful in gaining efficiency, saving time and money and achieving a meaningful return on investment for your technology acquisitions.

Learn more about Encircle Healthcare.


Related Articles on Automation:

30 Predictions on the Future of Ambulatory Surgery Centers

10 Proven Ways for Surgery Centers to Improve Workflow Processes

10 Proven Surgery Center Cost Cutting Measures

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