Hospitals are complex, exciting and important places. Delivering the clinical services that hospitals provide requires an enormous amount of knowledge, too much of which is poorly managed despite it being ‘life saving’ in practice.
Over 15 years ago, Step Two’s first consulting engagement was with a public hospital network. In the intervening years, we’ve seen rapid advances in some areas, while other challenges remain the same.
Something that we’ve observed is there are three ‘digital worlds’ within a hospital. Two are increasingly well understood, while the third is often overlooked despite its importance. This article explores all three of these worlds.
Three ‘digital worlds’ in a hospital
Like other types of organisations, a hospital has a digital workplace that supports staff in their work, with a range of technology platforms and systems. Similar to other firms, there is much that can and should be done to improve these digital workplaces, and to make them more effective, seamless and productive.
What’ s different about hospitals is how they operate, and how this is reflected in the systems and strategies behind the scenes.
From our experience working across many medical providers, we see that there are three distinct digital worlds within hospitals:
- Corporate: just like any other organisation, staff make use of corporate tools and information, including HR, finance, IT and other corporate services.
- Frontline: all of the operational information and processes that support frontline work across a wide range of roles. This is a missing piece in most hospitals.
- Clinical: the medical equipment, clinical systems and patient records that underpin the primary healthcare services of a hospital.
Each of these digital worlds are explored in the coming sections.
Hospital networks are large organisations with thousands of staff, and in many respects they’re just like businesses in any other industry. Behind the delivery of frontline services is a framework of corporate services, such as HR, finance and IT. Depending on the structure of the hospital network, these services may be entirely centralised, or somewhat devolved to individual hospitals.
To deliver these services effectively, a hospital needs a well designed corporate intranet. This intranet must be:
- highly usable for staff, so that information and tools can be quickly found
- up-to-date, so that staff can trust the content they find
- well managed, to ensure the intranet is improving over time, not falling into disrepair
- well supported, with a modern technology platform that meets business needs
- governed in an effective way, with clear ownership of all aspects of the site
For 20+ years, Step Two has published best-practice advice to help intranet teams design, deliver and manage excellent corporate intranets. Hospitals should draw on this knowledge, as teams from other industries have done.
Nurses are knowledge workers. They require deep information about clinical practices, treatment regimes and equipment usage. This information changes constantly, as new treatments and devices are brought into the hospital. The same challenges exist for all clinical staff in hospitals, including doctors.
What is needed is great frontline support systems and knowledge repositories. The work done by the Mayo Clinic Department of Nursing shows what this can look like.
Surrounding this knowledge is a layer of systems and information that relate to the practical operation of the hospital. This includes everything from managing bed availability, to finding available equipment, and managing staff rosters.
The solution delivered by the Henry County Health Center shows how even simple solutions can be effective. By creating a simple web application for tracking the cleaning of patient rooms, tangible productivity benefits can be delivered.
This is huge and highly dynamic world of its own. The clinical side of hospitals is undergoing a huge digital transformation at present. Electronic patient records will enable the seamless delivery of great clinical services, across interactions, touchpoint and hospitals.
Alongside this, the clinical equipment used by hospitals is now benefiting from much greater access to the digital world. This includes seamlessly transferring test results and clinical imaging directly into electronic patient records, as well as giving doctors diagnostic support driven by AI.
In the short term, this world of clinical innovation stands separately to digital workplace initiatives that focus on corporate and frontline needs. In the longer term, the three worlds will naturally become more aligned and integrated.
Where to start
The starting point for any digital initiative should be the delivery of a corporate intranet that works. Designed well, this will slash the time spent completing administrative tasks, as well as putting key information into the hands of all staff.
Alongside the clinical innovation being driven by other teams, resources should be allocated to providing the frontline support that staff need. This is the big gap in many organisations, as it can all-too-easily fall between the chairs of corporate and clinical teams.
All of these activities should ultimately contribute to a coordinated and productive digital workplace that services the needs of all staff. This is the vision, and there’s lots that can be done now, so let’s get started!