Bringing Humanity Back to Healthcare — Do Hospitals Need a Chief Burden Reduction Officer?

December 4, 2020

If the boom in new C-suite titles in healthcare — such as chief experience officer, chief growth officer, and chief analytics officer — “reflect new priorities and cultural shifts” inside organizations, what new titles should we be on the lookout for in the year ahead?

If the boom in new C-suite titles in healthcare — such as chief experience officer, chief growth officer, and chief analytics officer — “reflect new priorities and cultural shifts” inside organizations, what new titles should we be on the lookout for in the year ahead?

The must-do list of priorities for health systems in 2021 is long: recover the bottom line, provide front-line care for the pandemic, address health inequities, reduce provider burnout, and prepare for value-based care. Health systems won’t have the bandwidth to get to these important goals if they don’t first prioritize reducing the burdens and frustrations of outdated processes, duplicative reporting, and reliance on paper instead of digital data.

My vote for new title in 2021: Chief Burden Reduction Officer

Healthcare is rife with inefficient processes that sap the energy of clinicians, increase healthcare costs, and place unacceptable strain on patients. Duplicative paper-based workflows drive much of this. Efficiency and human-centeredness tend to be seen as opposing forces. Not so here. Making healthcare more efficient — by eliminating crazy-making paper processes — will make it more humane. The C-suite should reflect that goal.

Hospital COVID-19 data reporting is a stark example of this challenge.

“Hospitals have struggled with [COVID hospital reporting requirements, which] … have added to their administrative burdens in the midst of a pandemic. Hospitals have been asked, cajoled and are now being forced to provide that data daily,” reported NPR. Staff and providers inside hospitals are slogging through processes of manually faxing, emailing, phoning-in, and even mailing COVID reports to local health departments, the state, and the federal government.

COVID data reporting is just the start. Data requests will explode once the final data blocking rule is in effect next year. The information management component of hospital operations is on a steep upward trajectory, and it’s going to create an entirely new set of costs and burdens for hospitals.

Patients are longing for health systems to take on this work. To start, patients don’t want to fill out the darn clipboard. They want to be sure their records are shared for all referrals. And they don’t want emergency departments flying blind when they show up unexpectedly. Most importantly, they want to give up their job as their own chief health record sherpa. My dear friend, who was frequently hospitalized, once said to a hospital CEO: “My undying loyalty will go to the hospital that takes on the burden of collecting and managing my health records for me.” Health systems deeply disrespect patients when they waste their time.

In 2021, hospitals have a unique opportunity to use automation and digital data to reduce the burden of these new requirements and of existing inefficient paper-based processes that are breaking the backs of hospital teams and patients. The goal should be to reduce waste — and bring humanity back to healthcare. It’s clear that the burden of inefficiency is contributing to high healthcare costs. The U.S. spends more than $15 billion a year, and 785 hours per physician, reporting quality measures. At Stanford Medicine, they estimate losing almost $8 million a year to physician burnout.

A Chief Burden Reduction Officer could be the central point of leadership for this priority, creating time- and process-based measurements for patients, staff, and providers alike and taking ownership of data-driven healthcare workflows. Processes that are ripe for efficiency updates today include prior authorizations, concurrent review, managing chart requests, HEDIS data collection, quality review, COVID reporting, referrals, and even chart completion.

Partnerships with a health information exchange (HIE) can be an important part of the solution. Today, Arizona’s Health Current is working with hospitals to automate COVID reporting. Rochester RHIO is helping patients directly access their health records, relieving burden on health systems. Indiana’s IHIE is simplifying COVID lab reporting for health systems. There’s a lot more that health systems and HIEs could do together to reduce burden.

My hope is that a Chief Burden Reduction Officer could serve as a powerful advocate for valuing the time of providers, staff, and patients. And through this work, not only will the financial operations of healthcare organizations improve, so will the lives of the people involved. All of these processes — the email, the paper, the intake form, the chart download, the fax — they are fundamentally wasteful of this beautiful human energy that we desperately need to transform healthcare. We are a nation facing multiple health crises. We need to free precious human time to address them.

Author, Claudia Wiliams, is Founder & CEO of Manifest MedEx.