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Determining the ROI of health IT

Hospitals must assess 'soft' as well as ‘hard’ returns

Hard numbers for return on investment in health IT aren’t always measurable, at least in a direct way. Instead, healthcare organizations need to look at both “hard” and “soft” savings when considering a system’s ROI.

“There are many areas where it is difficult to assign a hard dollar figure for savings,” said Dean Wiech, managing director for Lynbrook, N.Y.-based Tools4ever. “A lot of times quantifying savings is more about looking at cost avoidance.”

[See also: Health IT projects to top $34B in 2014]

Tools4ever produces identity management and security software along with professional consulting services for healthcare organizations. Its objective is to provide customers with safe, secure and simplified procedures for accessing IT systems, Wiech said, which can pay dividends in myriad ways.

“Most of our customers can cost justify their expenses based on the time they spend opening, deleting and managing accounts,” he said. “Time is money.”

The time element for identity management and system security relates to user productivity on the system, Wiech said. With single sign-on for individual users, the time spent logging on, managing passwords and accessing authorized information can save up to 15 minutes per session, per user. That adds up tremendously over the course of a shift and a day, he said.

And while it usually ends up as “soft dollar savings,” Wiech said the protection of patient data from unauthorized users and system intruders results in trouble avoidance and peace of mind for administrators.

“Eliminating multiple log-ins and passwords is an intangible savings factor, but still significant,” he said. “If someone’s password card is lost and found by the wrong person, it could mean a costly security breach. It also means a loss of productivity because the person who lost the password card has to contact the help desk, who then has to reset those passwords. That is lost time.”

Identity management and security have become priorities among healthcare providers.

“People are waking up and seeing the need for these tools,” Wiech said. “They’ve done things manually for so long they now realize there are better ways. What’s more the cost of installation is about one-fourth of what it cost 10 years ago.”

Gauging ‘soft’ value

Indirect cost savings or revenue generation comprise the “soft” designation, which is usually applied to processes not easily measured. Data capture, a specialty of Madison, Wis.-based Extract Systems, falls under that description – especially for healthcare, said president David Rasmussen.

“There are a lot of elemental issues in healthcare, such as Meaningful Use, medical errors, staffing and productivity,” he said. “Healthcare needs to take soft costs more into consideration. We make turnaround time faster for moving around data and documents, improving workflow and productivity. Our automation saves labor and time while increasing productivity, but ultimately these are soft savings.”

Extract Systems’ LabDE system harnesses advanced data capture technology to chart lab results directly into electronic health records. Through document scanning and specific data extraction, the system’s automation reduces manual data entry, leading to laboratory efficiency and cost effectiveness.

ROI could also be called “payback,” which is an element that provider customers will ask about, but Rasmussen maintains that it is not their only, or even primary concern.

“When it comes to the most important hot button issue, it is very uneven among providers,” he said. “Some are really interested in the payback aspect, while others are focused on medical errors and driving it out of their workflow.”

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