There has been a lot of talk about how to pay for health care. At the same time, everyone wants the best quality care they can get. We all know that in practically every area of life, in order to get higher quality, you have to pay more. A better house? More money. A better car? More money. Better food? More money. How will we ever get out of the spiral of ever-increasing, ever-more-unaffordable health care costs? Everyone knows (empty promises from politicians notwithstanding) that we are marching down the road towards higher costs for lower quality health care.
Several companies in which Oak Investment Partners has invested in are pulling off the impossible, that is, lowering costs and raising quality. None of them involve magic. All of them make common sense. But they're new! The overall common theme is simple: understand the process, give consumers real, informed choice, and above all: use technology to automate the process. Here's one of them.
Candescent Health is taking a well-understood, necessary, highly-valued medical service (medical imaging), and applying methods that have been used with great success for years in call centers and back office automation. The methods are proven and widely deployed. They lower costs while improving quality, often dramatically. The only surprising thing is that it has taken so long to apply the methods in medical imaging; but that's a potential subject for another time!
The core method is usually called workflow. It is widely applied in factories, document processing, and nearly any setting in which there are repetitive units of work. The key elements include:
- Digital unit of work. The foundation of modern workflow is a digital unit of work. This means the unit of work is like an e-mail, only with structure and controls. It contains the image, everything about it and everything that's been done to it.
- Central work distribution. There is a central location that "sees" (like an e-mail server) every piece of work coming in, every doctor who is working or ready for work, and the deadlines.
- Intelligent routing. It's important that the central work distribution makes intelligent decisions about which piece of work to give to whom. In a call center, this means you talk to someone who is qualified to handle your issue. For medical imaging, it means that the right specialist (for example, someone who only does shoulders!) handles your case.
- Specialized processors. A Swiss Army Knife is great, but for any given task, a real screwdriver, etc. is better. In the same way, someone who specializes in a kind of work produces superior results more quickly than a generalist. This is the key to better quality.
- Process automation. Once the right person gets the right piece of work, making that person as efficient as possible makes the person happier and more efficient. Every keystroke and mouse click that can possibly be eliminated is eliminated.
- Standardized output. Of course there are standard reports. But there should also be standard lexicons, and the same information should always be provided, regardless of who does the work. It's called "interchangeable parts." When this concept was introduced to manufacturing in the early 1800's, it led to an explosion of economic benefits. Now, in the early 2000's, we're applying it to medical imaging!
- Continuous improvement. Anyone who has worked seriously with workflow knows that the system can always be improved. Building in a process of continuous improvement helps maintain quality and make things better.
These are the elements of success for Candescent Health. I've just described their innermost secrets! But the key is that Candescent Health is actually delivering what I've described, and everyone involved (patient, referring doctor, specialist and hospital) is better off as a result. Everyone wins. Makes me smile.