Benchmarking is, or should be, a vital part of any healthcare organization's operational strategy. Simply put, it's used as a point of reference from which an evaluation can be made, and the healthcare industry has used benchmarking frequently over the years to improve processes and outcomes.
Like many things in the industry, it can be helped along by technology -- more specifically, artificial intelligence.
An Amerinet whitepaper found organizations that benchmark create a competitive environment promoting improvement and growth. Benchmarking also reduces department budgets by 3 percent, improves caseload by 10 percent and reduces wait times by a staggering 350 percent.
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That same whitepaper lays out a number of prerequisites for effective benchmarking, including leadership commitment, experience with continuous quality improvement and identification of key processes.
Raul Valdes-Perez, PhD, an AI computer scientist and co-founder of OnlyBoth, would add another prerequisite to the list: AI-powered software.
INTRODUCING AI TO BENCHMARKING
"The task of the software is to find comparative insights and write them in perfect English paragraphs," said Valdes-Perez. "You can't do that well unless you have a certain expertise in artificial intelligence."
The purpose of benchmarking in healthcare is to improve efficiency, quality of care, patient safety and patient satisfaction. The process involves looking at standards, best practices and evidence-based practices and then identifying potential areas of improvement.
Applying AI to the process allows for faster and more granular analyses of hospital data sets, which typically include information of interest to both consumers and providers. This is particularly advantageous when it comes to competitive benchmarking.
INTERNAL VS. COMPETITIVE BENCHMARKING
Competitive benchmarking differs from internal benchmarking. The latter occurs when a hospital or health system compares functions within its organization, looking at each area and evaluating how it meets the set standards and goals.
For instance, if a hospital wants to improve hand washing and sanitizing practices to prevent infections, it may use internal benchmarking to evaluate current practices in each department, and then set goals for 100 percent hand hygiene compliance throughout the hospital.
Competitive benchmarking occurs when one hospital analyzes another organization's processes or services and compares its goals or outcomes against its own. For example, a hospital that wants to improve patient satisfaction may compare how long their patients wait in emergency rooms before seeing a doctor to the median time patients wait at competing ERs.
In the case of AI-assisted benchmarking, it's important to ask questions, said Valdes-Perez. With the right human input, AI can deliver valuable insights.
"User experience is not based on throwing information at a user, where the user isn't sure what information is being answered," said Valdes-Perez. "What's best-in-class, for example? The software organizes results based on the questions that are answered."
Benchmarking gives voice to quality standards in healthcare. Healthcare organizations that have adopted a benchmarking process have found a way to identify strengths and weakness, allowing an action plan for improvement. Healthcare is made up of multiple stakeholders and, through benchmarking, each one can benefit from quality and safety projects for improvement.
As 2019 looms, technology is poised to facilitate this process, borrowing both the software capability and general philosophy from other industries -- such as sports.
Valdes-Perez's own company started off as a research project focused on baseball.
"In business and government, it's insightful to report benchmarking insights on how someone has changed over time," he said. "They do that in sports, right? This person has the most home runs of anyone else in the National League, the biggest increase in home run production from year to year, etc."
Not everyone in healthcare undergoes benchmarking processes. Valdes-Perez hopes that changes, and thinks benchmarking will become more ubiquitous as technology and AI make comparing data sets easier.
"Our goal is to completely change the way people think about benchmarking," he said. "We want people to think about this as the gold standard. That takes time, especially in a complex arena like healthcare."