Why Healthcare Is Moving To Lean IT Practices

by CXOtoday News Desk    Jan 13, 2015


The healthcare sector is going through exciting tech-enabled changes in the way care is delivered, how providers interact with their patients, and how payments are made. To create more effective systems that help health professionals deliver better care, providers are moving rapidly toward becoming digital enterprises. While the pressure of enabling the digital enterprise is landing squarely on the shoulders of the IT department, an increased number of companies in this sector is going for lean IT practices, according to a recent McKinsey report.

“In our experience, it’s often possible to increase IT productivity by 20 to 40 percent through the application of lean and to reduce the delivery time of new applications and functionality by 10 to 30 percent through more rapid iterations. As a result, lean not only reduces IT costs directly but also enhances revenues by accelerating the deployment of digital technologies,” say the authors of the report.

In many ways, the IT department of a typical healthcare provider is similar to the IT functions of companies in other sectors. That’s because each IT team deals with the common challenges of keeping servers running, rolling out new applications, and supporting end-user devices, such as PCs, tablets, and smartphones. However, in healthcare especially, most IT departments could stand to improve the processes for defining new IT projects, such as incor­porating mobile devices in patient care, gathering requirements for application development, or streamlining the response to service disruptions or cyberincidents.

Common lean IT levers applicable to healthcare include the following:

- standardizing routine processes

- segmenting work by complexity and urgency

- pooling resources to break down technology silos

- cross-training teams on multiple systems or platforms to build a more flexible workforce

- eliminating activities that don’t add value

The IT departments of healthcare providers face several sector-specific challenges in how lean levers are applied.

 High stakes: For healthcare providers, IT is critical to patient care. For example, IT must carefully consider the ramifications for patient care when prioritizing incidents, service requests, and projects, as well as when setting the corresponding service-level objectives. Lean-IT practitioners consequently must understand how changes will affect patient care. Moreover, it is often more difficult to cross-train system administrators or developers to handle multiple systems in healthcare than it is in other industries, because of the specialization required to administer patient-care systems.

Greater variability in computer proficiency: In industries where knowledge workers spend the majority of their time at computers, lean systems can rely on leveraging self-service and regular end-user training to increase efficiency and improve service levels, states the article. “Doctors, nurses, and technicians usually spend less of their time at computers. As a result, there may be greater variability in IT proficiency at healthcare providers and a need for more extensive coaching and change management,” it notes.

Highly regulated industry: Managing the implications of regulatory-compliance guidelines—such as system access, security, privacy, and audits—is often a larger part of IT in the healthcare sector than in other industries. As a result, lean practitioners have to work more closely with the legal and compliance departments to ensure that any changes in IT comply with multiple levels of regulation, say the authors.

Growth of clinical devices: Around the world, private and public healthcare providers are increasing investments in digital technologies. The IT departments of healthcare providers often must manage and maintain an increasing number of end-user devices, such as blood-pressure monitors and magnetic-resonance-imaging machines, which often store patient data locally. These clinical-technology devices are above and beyond the standard IT fare of PCs, smartphones, and tablets, say the authors adding that this demand comes added burdens, including increased network traffic and decentralized storage requirements.

According to McKinsey researchers, undertaking a lean-IT transformation is nearly a prerequisite for keeping pace in this complex healthcare environment. When the efficiency and effectiveness of IT are improved, freed-up capacity can be directed to develop and support new digital technologies. To that end, lean IT needs to be applied in a thoughtful way that recognizes the unique challenges faced by healthcare providers.