The Networked Hospitals of the Future

September 16, 2008 by Dr. Peter Rohner

The system of diagnosis-related groups (DRGs) classifies hospital cases into different categories to determine the cost of treatments. Germany’s DRG system, which was introduced in 2003, sets flat fees for medical services.

The introduction of flat fees for hospital cases and the first wave of mergers in German hospitals have heralded the emergence of a new form of competition for customers and resources in healthcare in the German-speaking countries.

Hospitals, the largest group of healthcare providers, will have to cope with a stream of major changes – some continuous, some abrupt – as a result of the coming healthcare system reforms.

Hospitals that successfully master these changes and take advantage of the opportunities they present will develop the management skills to efficiently drive their transformation. For example, they will be able to implement concepts such as clinical patient pathways, process optimization, cooperative care networks, interdisciplinary centers, and eHealth.

Best practices

In other industries, such as financial services or mechanical engineering, it is very common to use best practices to benefit from the experience of others. Hospitals only stand to profit from examining whether and how various methods, models, and experience can be applied to the healthcare sector.

Hospitals can respond to the developing competition in many ways, including workforce planning, networking, and optimization, while continuing to take into account the unique conditions – both in terms of patients and staff – of clinical practice.

Information technology can play a decisive role in the hospitals’ transformation, not least by reducing the time required for particular processes, lowering costs, and connecting partners. To get the most from their IT, hospitals must have clear strategic targets and ensure a strong connection between processes and IT.

Networked hospitals

The Competence Center for Health Network Engineering (CC HNE) at the Institute of Information Management at the University of St. Gallen works with about 20 hospitals and is currently focusing on strategic networking and collaborative processes. The center is researching:

  • Bilateral cooperation between hospitals and insurers (including prices and conditions, preferences, and information and transparency)
  • Reference processes for administrative and clinical procedures in hospitals (for example, for reducing diagnosis and patient turnaround times)
  • Process-oriented patient identification (in terms of security and quality)
  • Supplier relationship management in hospitals (strategic and operational vendor management, procurement, logistics, and materials management)
  • Innovative positioning and organization of the hospital pharmacy (as the interface between clinics, departments, patient care, and management)
  • Evaluating the benefit of eHealth initiatives (to ensure the right projects are pursued)

The role of IT in all of these processes is to enable and support. It is therefore essential that the IT organization is aligned with management, doctors, and support staff.

The Value Chain Forum 2008 will take place from October 9 to October 10, 2008 at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland. As part of the workshop on the networked hospitals of the future, the forum will look at the challenges of digital networking and present innovative real-world best practices and approaches from academic research. In particular, the workshop will focus on cooperative care networks and managing processes, quality, and costs.

Dr. Peter Rohner, director of the Competence Center for Health Network Engineering (CC HNE) at the University of St. Gallen’s Institute of Information Management will moderate the workshop.

Speakers include Dr. Jürg Gasse, CEO of MediService AG, and Dr. Markus Rehsteiner, member of the Swiss Medical Association and specialist in anesthesiology and intensive care. They will lead the two working groups “PharmaCare” and “Process Excellence in the Clinic.”

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