Effective IT Governance: It’s a Matter of Integration
When it comes to decision-making within physician practices, historically there’s been a “great divide.” On one side is operations. Operations teams traditionally make decisions about patient access, clinical goals, and revenue cycle objectives driven by their own distinct missions, focus areas, and priorities. On the opposite side is IT. Charged with directing IT programs and setting IT priorities, IT teams frequently function under separate leadership. While both sides of the divide may work very hard to support the same organizational goals, they often overlook the importance of pulling together to advance the practice’s overall strategic goals. An integrated approach to IT governance through the alliance of IT and operations is now essential.
Setting Common Goals
Until the development of truly integrated healthcare vendor solutions, many of a practice’s IT systems were managed autonomously. From a practical perspective, this meant that IT interfaces often represented the extent of collaboration efforts.
Going forward, focus should not be on just the systems themselves, but on aligning IT programs to support dynamic goals. Today’s healthcare environment is fast-paced and interdependent, making it critical for historically insular departments and IT systems working on static goals to move toward a culture of integration and collaboration. For example, achieving quality and financial performance metrics within evolving Meaningful Use and value-based care initiatives will be difficult for practices that attempt to do so with autonomous systems.
Instead, IT ideally will be positioned to support strategic operational goals. While IT leadership should not be asked to drive strategy, it’s imperative that they understand the practice’s overarching ambitions so they can work in harmony with operations to accomplish them.
For example: Consider how a practice’s productivity objectives might be affected by its scheduling system. An IT team unaware of the productivity aims might inadvertently make decisions about scheduling templates that hinder the provider’s ability to see enough patients to achieve the targets. Conversely, an IT team that understands the productivity goals can act as an enabler of the desired change.
The role of operations within this collaborative atmosphere is to point everyone in the same direction. Although IT teams possess the expertise to manage technical infrastructure, operations teams generally are in the best position to help navigate an organization’s clinical and political landscape.
To develop an integrated governance structure, practices should consider taking a four-tiered approach:
- Start at the top, with executive leadership. C-suite executives are the ones who must define both short- and long-term practice-wide objectives, complete with clearly described expectations for success. (How will a practice know, for example, if it is attaining the desired return on its investments?) Once executives define the goals, they must then communicate them and provide staff with the right resources to accomplish them.
- Integrate governance at the practice level. IT implementations can no longer be led solely by IT leadership. Rather, integrated leadership teams should be co-chaired by IT leadership and the CMOs/CMIOs who traditionally oversee clinical quality and operations.
- Create an integrated leadership council. All organizational aspects should be represented on a working council. Include leadership from patient access, clinical quality, and revenue cycle, for example. Together, council members should define the standards the practice wishes to accomplish: quality, financial, and patient satisfaction goals, for instance.
- Form integrated work groups. Once an integrated leadership council has defined the standards to be met, work groups consisting of IT and operations can then be tasked with implementing them.
In today’s healthcare environment, pushing top-down IT decisions onto providers should be a thing of the past. The fact is, it isn’t just about IT anymore. It’s about implementing a decision-making process that supports practice goals. The only way that IT leaders will know if their overall strategy is aligned with organizational objectives is if an integrated governance structure enables them to work in tandem with operations.
Brad Boyd is vice president of sales and marketing for Culbert Healthcare Solutions.