Traditional Care Coordination is Broken, It’s Time to Automate

By Cindy Gaines, RN, MSN, Chief Clinical Transformation Officer, Lumeon

Job satisfaction and care team productivity are hot topics these days and the nursing shortage is taking its toll. I was at a surgical conference just a few weeks ago, and staff shortage was the number one issue.

As the US healthcare system works to recalibrate processes and protocols, it’s time to think about how to do what we do differently. In the past, the typical approach to solving care coordination challenges was to throw more people at the problem. But, in today’s environment, there are just no more people available.

Nurses are struggling to love their jobs. A recent McKinsey Report found that as many as 38% of nurses in the US, UK, Singapore, Japan, and France are likely to leave their role in providing patient care within a year. In most cases, the factors most likely to keep nurses on the job were the ability to do meaningful work and work in a positive and engaging environment.

Handling rote and administrative tasks like scheduling, paperwork, and follow-ups reduces nurses’ sense of meaningful work and engagement while also sucking up their precious time with patients. They are less productive and spend disproportionate amounts of time on tasks that do not involve direct patient care.

Automating a significant proportion of these tasks is the prime way to shift the needle on job satisfaction and retention among care teams. As a key component of care orchestration, intelligent automation relieves the administrative pressure on nurses and allows them to spend more time working at top-of-license.

Unfortunately, many healthcare leaders are unaware that intelligent care automation technology is available to optimize operational and clinical workflows in ways that transform patient care.

Although automation is a game-changer, the journey is not without challenges. For those looking to streamline care delivery through care orchestration, here are some common barriers and how to overcome them.

Automation wariness

A common knee-jerk reaction among staff is that automation will replace caregivers with technology such as robots, resulting in less humanized healthcare. The idea of automation feels cold and impersonal to many, and some misperceive it as a means of reducing the workforce and cutting payroll.

On the contrary, well-placed automation tools can free staff to provide more direct, high-touch care. They can be particularly valuable in understaffed situations when care teams are tasked with more than they can handle. Involving the care teams in the automation design can reassure them that the technology will benefit, not replace them.

  1. Ideal workflows versus actual workflows

In healthcare, we do a great job of defining workflows and how processes work. Where we fall apart is in the execution. As care teams often have many things to do at once, they are frequently distracted and derailed from ideal workflows.

As leaders, we can make assumptions about how workflows are done. We may not realize everything the front-line teams do and in what order, or that they may not be following the defined workflows. Getting an accurate picture is essential to seeing how automation tools would interact with workflows as they occur. It’s key to involve front-line staff in designing how automation tools will interact with existing workflows.

  1. Unexpected interruptions in workflows

Leaders often have inaccurate ideas about how staff work, and the staff themselves may not realize what takes up most of the time in their day. Staff may have an idea of “how it works” — the ideal workflow they believe they are enacting — without realizing how many distracting tasks they are fielding and how much duplication has crept in. Different staff members often have slightly different ways of doing the same thing – bringing unnecessary variation in delivery.

Leaders looking to implement automation should ask the staff where their frustrations are. Where are the distractions? Annoyances? Duplications? The idea is to figure out how to create standardized workflows so that automation can help the team as much as possible.

  1. Blind spots in how work flows across departments

A workflow that centers in a particular department will likely touch other teams. And accordingly, changes in the workflow made by one team may affect workflows in others. That’s why it’s essential to involve everyone who touches the workflow when looking at how to implement automation. If all teams involved don’t know how to interact with the automation tools, the entire workflow won’t function well.

  1. Resistance to change

One underappreciated challenge for leaders looking to automate care coordination is a general resistance to change. This resistance crops up even if the new tool is trustworthy and advanced. A great example is the Tesla automobile. The first time you drive it, taking your hands off the wheel can be uncomfortable. Even though it is a safe and effective way to travel, there is something about giving up control. But it can help drivers to know that they can always put their hands on the wheel again and start steering.

Similarly, care teams using care orchestration tools can always “grab the wheel” whenever necessary. Leaders can emphasize that automation is an enhancement that helps care teams focus on the most important tasks without losing control of any process. Workflows are built around people, and tech makes those workflows as efficient as possible.

Fast-tracking automation in healthcare

As a society, we’ve gotten comfortable with automation in many aspects of our lives. We talk to our phones to text our friends. We pay for things with the click of a button and check ourselves in at the airport.

Yet automation lags in healthcare, in part because of the challenges above. Overcoming these hurdles can help fast-track a new way of working that will make care teams more likely to be satisfied in their jobs and engaged in meaningful work that benefits the patients.

Get in touch with Lumeon to learn how you can get started with care automation.