Reducing costs, improving patient experience top of mind for health system leaders: survey

Healthcare margins are continuing to shrink as the industry experiences changing payment models, rising labor costs, aging baby boomers and an uncertain regulatory environment. Health systems are feeling the pressure, and healthcare executive leaders are keenly focused on reducing costs in 2019, according to a survey from Porter Research.

For the survey, which was commissioned by SAP, Porter Research polled 100 healthcare chief executive officers, chief financial officers and chief information officers about the top challenges facing their health systems and how they plan to prioritize new technology investments over the next three years.

The survey gathered input from health executives and finance leaders from 98 organizations across the country. Participants included 71% C-level leaders, including CEOs, CFOs and CIOs, and 29% vice presidents and directors across finance, administration and operations teams. The participants were from acute care hospitals and integrated delivery networks with over 300 beds.

The survey findings indicate that two issues are top of mind for healthcare executives in 2019—addressing the cost pressures resulting from declining reimbursements and enhancing the patient experience as consumerism continues to intensify.

RELATED: Moody's report shows trouble on horizon with 'unsustainable path' for nonprofit hospitals

Healthcare executives identified declining reimbursement (62%), the patient experience (53%), maintaining and upgrading IT (48%), and cybersecurity (46%) as the top challenges facing their health systems.

Healthcare executives also acknowledged that key initiatives required to reduce costs and improve the patient experience include identifying and scaling operational efficiencies, enabling interoperability, increasing visibility into data across the enterprise, and improving patient engagement, the survey said.

When asked what will have the greatest impact on reducing costs or increasing revenue, respondents pointed towards visibility into and integration of clinical and financial data. Thirty-seven percent of healthcare finance leaders said technology will support improving efficiencies to reduce costs. The right technology can help with data mining with legacy systems to efficiently and accurately obtain information, the survey said.

RELATED: Morgan Stanley: Nearly 1 in 10 hospitals at risk for closure

Many healthcare executives recognize that interoperability is the foundation for implementing tools, such as AI and machine learning, which will enable the ability to automate, refine and improve healthcare operational processes and clinical workflows.

Healthcare executives envision that the integration and visibility of clinical and financial data will help to improve resource capacity and productivity with a reduction in clinical practice variation, and also reduce scheduling bottlenecks with predictive staffing models, according to the survey. Other benefits include identifying enterprisewide readmission risks, leveraging point-of-care analytics and providing visibility of the enterprisewide revenue cycle.

To implement new strategies to reduce costs, the survey report recommends health system executive leaders evaluate the existing technology gaps across their organizations, understand data silos and workflow barriers and combine these insights to drive best-practice processes.

Improving the patient experience also is a top priority for healthcare executives in order to keep pace in an ever-competitive market. When asked what technology will have the greatest impact on improving the patient experience, 52% of executives pointed to data sharing between providers, payers, government and industry. Thirty-six percent of healthcare executives cited patient engagement as an important area in which there is a lack of visibility into the data.

Health systems are investing in solutions to support financial departments, improve patient engagement, allow interoperability and provide visibility into data across the enterprise, the survey said. Healthcare systems are shifting their current culture to become patient-centric organizations; almost half of the responders (49%) indicated they will invest in patient engagement technology in the next three years.

The survey report recommends health system leaders start with understanding the current patient experience and then invest in technology that enables interoperability, visibility of enterprisewide data and automation.