Project Managements’ Role in Health Information Management
Today’s healthcare leaders are continuously refining and developing their processes in order to improve patient care, reduce costs and elevate the patient’s overall experience and satisfaction. The adoption of project management (PM) principles within healthcare has dramatically increased over the last decade, and has become increasingly important to facilities because they help control costs, mitigate risk, and improve overall project outcomes. Due to the vast number of electronic system implementations (i.e. EHRs, CACs, CDI Software, etc.) within healthcare, project management has emerged as one of the most prominent business skills sets desired.
One area within healthcare where we have seen project management significantly add value to organizations is Health Information Management (HIM). Historically, if you were to ask any HIM professional if they need assistance initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and closing projects or processes, the majority would unequivocally tell you that they or their supervisors had adequate time to complete all their tasks/projects.
Unfortunately, in our experience over the last 12 years, we have found that to not be the case as often times Vice Presidents or C-suite executives assign additional high priority, time consuming projects to their HIM leadership teams. In recent years, with hospitals focused on cutting costs, HIM teams have been asked to do even more with less resources. Many HIM departments are constantly under pressure to manage concurrent priorities against the facility’s DNFB (discharged, not final billed) resulting in time constraints for many other activities, especially retrospective projects.
If utilized properly, project management principles will allow HIM departments to generate value from their various retrospective activities, including audits, while maintaining focus on their concurrent priorities.
In this article we will outline:
- Common Challenges HIM Leaders Encounter
- Project Management (PM) Strategies and Approach for HIM
Common Challenges HIM Leaders Encounter
Concurrent Priorities Taking Precedent – Day to day operations within HIM departments fluctuate frequently. As an HIM leader, it may seem as if your full time job is running to put out fires related to your concurrent activities (i.e. managing your DNFB). In this environment, your daily state of mind is set to “crisis management mode”. By employing the basic project management principles outlined you will be able to balance staffing needs, physician needs, patient volume fluctuations, supervisor or C-suite delegating tasks, and other priorities properly.
Budget Constraints – Financial performance against your budgets can be very demanding. Often times, budgeting constraints impede HIM leaders from implementing important retrospective audit activities. In a recent YES HIM Consulting case study, our team evaluated the impacts of project management on HIM, focusing its analysis on results oriented efficiencies obtained throughout the compliance auditing process.
The case study “Project Management’s Impact on HIM: A coding Compliance Audit Case Study” presented over a two-year period, identified that 82% of the time, inpatient coding staffs under coded resulting in roughly $300,000 per quarter. Because project management was used to efficiently run retro audit activities amongst concurrent priorities the facility highlighted in the case study was able to re-bill and positively affect their bottom line by over a million dollars ($1.2 million) a year.
Decentralized Tracking – With HIM departments managing many different projects or teams (i.e. Coding, Auditing, Transcription, CDI, etc.) on a daily basis, accurate and timely tracking of current activities presents a challenge. Add in the fact that many HIM teams, such as coding and transcription, are employing increasingly more remote staff and you could have a recipe for failure if not properly project managed.
Undefined Timelines and Expectations – The development of timelines and clearly identified expectations can be easily bypassed as more “higher priority” tasks take precedent. A major challenge many HIM leaders face today is having the actual daily time to develop and communicate clear deadlines or expectations.
Unclear Transition Point between Teams or Team Members – Very rarely do HIM projects or processes involve a single individual or single team. The largest risk for miscommunication arises when transition points (“handoffs”) between teams or team members are not clearly identified.
Project Management (PM) Strategies and Approach that Add Value to Your Organization
As healthcare in the United States continues to evolve under mounting cost and quality pressures, the need for project management becomes ever more apparent. Understanding and applying the foundations of project management can significantly improve outcomes across health care delivery settings.
Below are five Project Management Best Practices that you can apply to any HIM project or process today to begin to generate more efficiencies throughout your organization.
In today’s dynamic ever changing healthcare environment, centralized tracking efforts, when managing multiple projects or processes is what we need to strive for. In response to that need, the implementation of a dedicated project manager, who is responsible for tracking, communicating and facilitating all transitions points between teams and departments sets the foundation for success.
NOTE: If your team or department doesn’t have access to a dedicated Project Manager…any dedicated resource within the organization with good communication skills will be helpful.
The second project management best practice to employ across all initiatives is process standardization. There are 3 main benefits realized from standardizing your processes:
- Higher Productivity & Output – By having more efficient processes, you’ll end up with higher productivity across the organization.
- Easier Process Improvement – Process standardization will lay the foundation for more agile process improvement initiatives in the future.
- Easier Onboarding – If you have a standard way of doing things in the company, it’s easier for new employees to be brought up to speed. Otherwise, working on different team would require them to re-learn some of the process steps.
Once the management of the overall process is defined you need to clearly identifying each transition point between teams and/or departments. This particular project management best practice significantly decreases your risk of communication breakdowns.
Our fourth project management best practice is the development of realistic deliverable dates. It is important when developing your target dates that you account for lead/lag time (essentially “buffer” time) around your competing priorities. By selecting those realistic target dates it will allow you to find the balance between working your concurrent priorities while still realizing value from your retrospective activities.
The 5th and arguably most important project management best practice is the ability to foster and improve communication between the different teams/departments. It is vital, in our experience, that you that you institute a multi-disciplinary approach at the onset of any project.
Adopting certain project management strategies into your healthcare organization equips you with the tool to be able to thrive in the chaotic environments in which we operate daily. I would offer that “PM” does not need to stand for project management…but rather let it stand for Peace of Mind. Peace of mind knowing that by implementing these project management strategies throughout your HIM teams, your projects and processes will be more efficient and generate more value to not only you but your entire organization.