Information technology can do a lot, but it can't cure simmering conflicts between business and clinical priorities.
For healthcare delivery networks that want to combine independent pieces, the final phase should be information integration. The process also includes integration of the network's structure, clinical care and operations.
Implementing software applications without proper planning can cause a costly boondoggle and a bad fit with the organization, says Jack Simpson, an information specialist and a Foundation Health Federal Services liaison to the Defense Department.
The FHFS is a division of Woodland Hills, Calif.-based Foundation Health Systems, which covers about 2 million enrollees in the Defense Department's Tricare managed-care program for active-duty personnel and retirees and their families.
Simpson and Peter Ramsaroop, a director and chief information officer at Long Beach, Calif.-based First Consulting Group, will outline a framework for integration planning that aligns technology management with overall business strategies. The seminar, "Information Technology: Linking Business Strategy to Customer Needs," will be presented at 8: 30 a.m. March 9.
Healthcare institutions typically have trouble mixing business and clinical care, says Ramsaroop. In complex organizations, facilities usually focus on integrating the business or clinical areas individually, but they don't link both areas, he says.
That spells trouble for organizationwide integration, which calls for a vision that everyone shares. When only half the staff members are on board, Ramsaroop says, "they're trying to implement a strategy or vision that is not even common across the enterprise."
Unifying the corporate mission, the business strategy and management is part of integrating the structure-the first step in forging an integration framework, he says.
The next step, clinical integration, realigns care delivery into a consistent process across all sites and medical disciplines. The goal is to ensure that patients will receive the same care or advice regardless of where they are seen.
Operational integration focuses on meeting the needs of those served by the network and planning, managing and deploying the right clinical resources in the right places.
For example, Ramsaroop says, networks must determine the proper mix of primary-care and specialist physicians. And financial decisions should be guided by an idea of where resources should be located based on community need for services.
Informational integration should allow any authorized user in any location to gain access to patient and business information no matter where the data were created, Simpson says.
Executives have recognized the importance of such access because of pressures to deliver better care at lower costs.
But they err when they buy a ready-made "solution" instead of planning an information strategy tailored to underlying integration and automation needs, he says.