The Healthcare Financial Management Association has published a series of conclusions on what the overall scheme of information systems projects should look like and how to build costly computerized superstructures.
Among the conclusions, the study recommends that the HFMA's member financial executives increase spending on information systems dramatically as a percentage of total operating budget.
Based on experiences of some of the most advanced information technology initiatives across the country, the study also points to outpatient care as a more preferred capital priority than inpatient processes.
And to an audience steeped in financial priorities, the study recommends devoting more resources to clinical systems than financial systems.
The HFMA originally identified 17 healthcare delivery or managed-care organizations to survey in an attempt to quantify the savings made possible by merging clinical and financial data in integrated healthcare networks (July 1, p. 38).
Researchers found early on, however, that such integration efforts weren't far enough along to measure the effects. But fuzzy figures on financial return haven't stopped leading organizations from spending heavily on new information technology, said Wendy Herr, HFMA vice president.
That belief in computerization became more dramatic when the study narrowed its focus to extensive surveys of three organizations selected as demonstrating "best practices" in three regions of the country: Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Brookline, Mass.; Henry Ford Health System, Detroit; and Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Seattle.
The consensus of those organizations was that financial officers should allocate 4% to 6% of an integrated delivery system's operating budget for information technology to maintain the system's competitive position-at least double the prevailing industry average.
When the institutions dipped below that level, they "got burned" because they couldn't maintain the modernization and smooth operation that had given them an edge, Herr said.
The study also said there was "widespread agreement that order-entry systems should be comprehensive and should encompass tests, procedures, prescriptions, referrals, admissions and materials."
Managers said more benefits were possible by transforming from inpatient- to outpatient-care settings. A key element of that strategy "is to aggressively implement physician workstations and develop clinical systems that fit smoothly into the work flow of physicians, nurses and other clinicians."
The study is published in the September issue of Healthcare Financial Management, the HFMA's membership publication.