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Will Hospital Automation Be the Answer To Increased Demand From ACA?

In healthcare, you can have high quality, high demand, or high reimbursement, or any combination of two out of three.
But it’s awfully hard to have all three. Now consider the fact that reimbursements are going to go down under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and demand is going to go up in the form of 30 million newly insured, plus 70 million retiring “Baby Boomers.”

So what happens to quality?

 

If it makes you feel better, it’s a problem the entire world is facing, according to Maureen Bisognano, CEO of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI). She told the opening session of the IHI’s National Forum that “draconian” reimbursement cuts and the addition of millions of newly insured patients will force quality care advocates to double down on their efforts to spread “best practices.” (See The Power of Spread: Improving Care in the Austerity Era by Haydn Bush in H&HN Daily.)

And they’d better hurry up, Bisognano said.

“What I’m hearing around the world is that we’re going into a different time with cost constraints and new challenges,” Bisognano said, adding that providers must stay ahead by quickly developing and spreading best practices much faster than in the past.

But there is one “Best Practice” which is already developed and can be spread widely and quickly. This practice, already underway in most of America’s top hospitals, protects quality while reducing costs and adding revenue to the bottom line.

It’s called hospital automation.

Not a new idea in Western Capitalism. Henry Ford made it famous, but it’s been around for a lot longer than that. It’s really any technology that saves time. Time is something that Western Industrialists cherish, but that healthcare executives seem to value considerably less.

Automating the physical operation of the hospital has the potential to save hundreds of billions of dollars and increase access to boot. Yet it barely gets any buzz, despite the fact that it is already registering those savings for some very famous institutions, and even making hundreds of millions for others.

As the ACA rolls out over the next few years, just dealing with the new market it creates (the 30 million newly insured) will require that every healthcare CEO in every size of hospital takes a closer look at the “best practice” of hospital automation.

Consider a recent analysis of the newly insured by the Advisory Board.

They’ll be relatively young, unfamiliar with the healthcare system, only have a high school education and prefer a language other than English.

Because they couldn’t previously afford care, many will have unmanaged or undiagnosed chronic conditions, and minimal education about preventative and elective care. Yet, because they will be enrolled in plans with high deductibles, they will be price-sensitive customers, likely to shop around for providers who offer high-quality services.

So quality can’t suffer. Lower reimbursement is inevitable. And demand will be more demanding than ever.

Maybe now is the time to spread the word about hospital automation.

What do you think?


Image Credit: APAC Forum 2012 Featured Speakers

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