Net Gains — Focus on Goals, Not Technology

November-December 1999


Mr. Lawry is president, Verus, Bellevue, WA.

Throughout today's healthcare system, managers, physicians, and marketing departments are asking themselves: How can we make the best use of Web services? Unfortunately, many are focusing on the technology involved. But the Web revolution in healthcare is not really about computer technology. It's about improving communication with patients, about freeing employees from inefficient work processes, and about strengthening mission while improving the bottom line.

In the purest sense, technology is a capital and operating expense. It does not, in itself, add value to a healthcare organization. Value is created only when leaders use the technology to improve the communication and work processes that are fundamental to the organization's success.

A typical organization, once it has decided to adopt Web services, evaluates the preparedness of its current information system. It is equally important that such an organization:

  • Decide which information should be Web enabled, and which should not
  • Evaluate the preparedness of employees to embrace the necessary changes

Six Fundamental Questions
Whether the organization in question is a hospital department or a healthcare system, it should move into Internet or intranet services* only after it has answered six fundamental questions.

*The Internet is the computer network that links individuals, businesses, government agencies, and private organizations around the world. An Intranet is a computer network linking the members of a single organization. See Thomas C. Lawry, ""Web Revolution" Is Changing Healthcare." Health Progress, May-June 1999, pp. 12-13; and "'Intranets' Bring the Revolution Home," Health Progress, July-August 1999, pp. 13-15.

What Are the Top Information-Sharing Issues Your Organization Faces? These issues may be either "internal" (e.g., improving staff communications in a manner that also reduces administrative costs) or "external" (e.g., providing prospective patients with information that both helps them take better care of themselves and induces them to use your organization's services when necessary). Decide which of these issues are of strategic importance to the organization.

Which Information-Sharing Processes Is Your Organization Currently Using to Address These Issues? Assess the efficiency of these processes. You may find, if you are trying to improve staff communications, for example, that your organization's current process both floods employees with useless information, on one hand, and makes it difficult for them to access valuable information, on the other. You might be able to reduce costs and improve communications by replacing that system with one that allows employees themselves to decide which pieces of information are valuable and to access them easily.

Can Your Organization Measure the Benefits It Would Get from Using Web Services? Look for definable benefits that can be seen with any Web application. Will placing information on an intranet increase productivity or improve informed decision making? Will putting information on the Internet both increase consumer use and reduce cost per interaction? To measure results, look for lowered costs, increased productivity, and reduced cycle times, along with improvements in decision making and in customer satisfaction and loyalty.

But never assume that Web-enabled information is automatically superior to other types. If you can't specify the benefits your organization would get from switching to Web services, don't switch. Even in a wired world, some things are best left to face-to-face or paper-based communications.

Does Your Organization Have a Web Services Team in Place? Of course, it's important to have a skilled technical staff. Equally important, however, are representatives from clinical, marketing, communications, process improvement, and business operations.

Develop an approach to Web initiatives that puts key players on the same team. A "key player" is one who has expertise (or at least an interest) in the process to be changed. If, for example, your organization wanted to use Web services to reach prospective women patients, the key players would be representatives from marketing, communications, and information services; the clinical and operations managers responsible for women's services; and several women from the community you wish to serve.

Are Your Employees Psychologically Ready to Move to Web Services? Web services that create value do so by changing how a task is done. But the "This-is-how-we've-always-done-it" mental syndrome on the part of employees often obstructs such change.

Web initiatives must, therefore, take employees' psychological preparedness into account. Before launching such an initiative, plan both technical training for the employees (especially those unfamiliar with computers) who will conduct it and "internal marketing" to motivate them to do it well. If you are creating an intranet to improve staff communications, you might want to include the human resources department in the planning for it. Whatever initiative you choose, be sure to base it on an internal communications plan that helps employees clearly understand both the changes involved and the benefits that will come from them.

Are Your Leaders Committed? None of this will work, of course, unless leaders themselves are committed. Leaders map the ways Web services will be used to further the organization's strategic and operational goals. They create the momentum that enables others to follow. And they help shift discussion away from technical issues and toward larger cultural issues, including the new skill sets Web services may require.

Contact Tom Lawry at 4628 175 Ave., SE, Bellevue, WA 98006; phone: 425-643-7117; fax: 206-643-0302.


Copyright © 1999 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Net Gains - Focus on Goals, Not Technology

Copyright © 1999 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.