Guest Column | April 27, 2012

Workflow Technologies: Help Or Hype In Healthcare?


By Mary Baum, chief healthcare officer, Connexall USA, Inc.

In spite of decades of effort, only modest progress has been made to tackle complex workflow issues that can drive wide-scale collaboration in healthcare. Staff shortages, limited resources and new regulations are all straining the clinicians who are responsible for working together across disciplines to transform patient satisfaction, efficiency and outcomes.

The ability of caregivers to effectively serve their patients requires collaboration in both the traditional and technological senses.  There has been a great deal of “hype” around technology solutions  — well documented by Gartner Group and the technology hype cycle. Behavioral studies regarding the effectiveness of Six Sigma and Lean Initiatives are often inconsistent.

In healthcare, the topic of workflow has been a major source of ambiguity. The term originated in manufacturing; and the 1980s brought its widespread use across various sectors. Outside of healthcare, workflow technologies tend to be based on a solid foundation of highly linear, repeatable steps with predictable sequences. In industries like fast food, this has enabled innovation, particularly related to the customer experience. (Case in point: Domino’s customers can trace the status of their order in real-time — from the moment it is prepared — to the second it leaves the door.)

Contrast the linear workflow of most industries to the highly complex workflow of healthcare, and one can easily understand why there hasn’t been more progress to date. In a hospital environment, the nature of work is extremely interdependent — and, at the same time, the environment highly uncertain.  Caregivers, and the IT staff and vendors that serve them, have relied primarily on the concept of “shared knowledge” to address these issues. However, workflow studies have shown that aggregated knowledge provides only a minimal or temporary improvement inside the healthcare ecosystem. 

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