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Patient-Reported Outcomes Improve Quality, Equity of Care

Patient-Reported Outcomes Improve Quality, Equity of Care

For several years, patient-reported outcomes (PROs) have been a topic of interest, in part due to increased utilization of electronic data and the integration of delivery systems. PROs are defined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and National Quality Forum as "any report of the status of a patient's health condition that comes directly from the patient, without interpretation of the patient's response by a clinician or anyone else." In short, PRO tools ask patients questions to measure how they feel and what they are experiencing. With patient-reported outcome measures (PROMs), patients provide information about their health, quality of life, and functional status, either in absolute terms (e.g., pain severity rating) or in response to treatment changes (e.g., new nausea onset). The goal of gathering this information from the patient’s perspective without any interpretation from a healthcare provider is to improve both the quality of care being delivered and health outcomes.

The use of PROs has a variety of potential benefits. They can elicit enhanced patient engagement, be used to clarify the patient’s priorities and thus improve shared decision-making between patients and providers, and can bring to light any benefits or harms of interventions. The potential impact of PROs, therefore, is substantial because involving patients in their healthcare is linked to a myriad of positive patient outcomes. For example, based on a review of studies investigating patient participation, some of the benefits to patients include:

  • increased satisfaction and trust,
  • empowerment,
  • greater self-efficacy to manage health,
  • higher quality of life,
  • better understanding of condition and personal requirements,
  • improved adherence to medical treatment plans,
  • improved communication about symptoms with positive and lasting effects on health.

Ever increasing in its availability, the use of PROs is included in clinical investigations, healthcare practice, healthcare management, and various regulatory or reimbursement areas. As the patient continues to become more central to healthcare, they are in the best position to determine if their healthcare objectives have been achieved. PROMs are not the same as measures reported by patients on their experience of the healthcare system, such as being treated with dignity or waiting too long; however, patient-reported outcome-based performance measures (PRO-PMs) are beginning to find their way into healthcare and may integrate such measures. To help understand the relationship between PROs, PROMs, and PRO-PMs, see Figure 1, which was designed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) in their supplemental guide on PROMs.

Figure 1.

To gather PROs, the tools and instruments known as PROMs must measure criteria that are identifiable, valid, and reliable. Most often these are general or disease-specific self-completed questionnaires, scales, or single-item measures that provide a score for any of the following:

  • functional status,
  • health related quality of life,
  • symptom and/or symptom burden,
  • personal experience of care,
  • health-related behaviors.

Generic PROMs often delve into areas covered by a variety of different conditions, allowing for comparisons across multiple medical conditions. These PROMs help with evaluation and implementation of care provision methodology and equality of service delivery. Some may even provide a cost-effectiveness component. Disease-specific PROMs identify the impact of definitive symptoms on the condition. PROMs can be used as either the primary or secondary outcome measure of a study or trial, and most studies use a combination of disease-specific and generic PROMs.

Measurement tools integrate other existing data (biological, genetic, clinical, and physical) to assess how a patient is functioning regarding their overall health, quality of life, mental well-being, or satisfaction with a healthcare process. Using all these data sources provides a more complete picture of the patient’s health journey and allows for patients and their providers to share decision-making and define individualized care. They also provide a unique opportunity to identify inequalities in healthcare access and treatment.

When utilizing PROMs, practitioners must plan for how the information will be collected and utilized. PROMs can be collected in a variety of ways, including face-to-face interviews, online or paper questionnaires, telephone interviews, or diaries. When deciding which PROMs to utilize, it is important to consider the preferences of patients, providers, and any other involved decision-makers. It is also essential to consider the cognitive, physical, demographic, and socioeconomic barriers that may exist for the patient to ensure they have adequate accommodations to participate. The length, schedule, and timeframe of assessments should also be appropriately assessed, along with any permissions needed to use the information. Lastly, the PROMs should be easy to score and interpret, actionable, and able to facilitate clinical decisions.

The use of PROs is here to stay. The hope is that improvements in interoperability, data governance, security, privacy, and ethics will allow greater integration of PROs. In turn, PROs will allow patient preferences, needs, and health outcomes to further drive value-based healthcare.


Growth On the Horizon for Robotic Process Automation in Healthcare

Hospital quality improvement teams have an increasingly difficult task ahead. Their efforts to improve quality of care across a wide range of medical services must be balanced with the need to expand their facility’s capacity, ensure proper handling of sensitive data, adhere to strict procedures, cut costs, and adapt to the limitations of a pandemic. This work poses challenges both organizational and operational. Even though patient care is the primary focus for hospital staff, they must maintain a constant stream of paperwork and other administrative tasks such as data entry, scheduling appointments, billing, and managing claims paperwork. Robotic process automation (RPA) presents an opportunity to decrease these administrative costs and streamline some operations.

RPA is defined as software that can automate repeatable, rule-based processes. RPA interacts with the assigned applications in the same way that a human does, logging into a given system and following a defined set of keystrokes and rules. It is not the same as artificial intelligence (AI)—there is no decision-making capacity. RPA can only offload manual, high-volume computer processes. The primary benefit of RPA, therefore, is its ability to free up time for humans to complete more complex tasks, such as interfacing with patients or interpreting data.

RPA is a burgeoning field recommended by consulting groups such as Deloitte, McKinsey, and Bain & Company. Although RPA hasn’t had sufficient time to make its way into academic literature, it is spreading quickly in all types of industries. For example, according to Deloitte’s Global RPA Survey, more than half of their 400 respondents from multiple industries were already pursuing automation with as many as 72% looking to add RPA in the next two years.

“RPA exceeds adopters’ expectations not only when it comes to the rapid rate of ROI increase, but also when it comes to facilitating compliance (92%), improved quality and accuracy (90%), or improved productivity (86%),” the report read. The report also suggests that the benefits of utilizing RPA may include cost reductions, boosts to productivity, more stable workflows, and fewer human errors, among others (see Figure 1).

Figure 1.

Source: Summit Healthcare

Healthcare as an industry has the potential to significantly benefit from offloading administrative tasks to bots. According to McKinsey, the healthcare sector has the potential to automate around 36% of tasks. They suggest that the greatest potential for healthcare payers is in areas such as claims processing, customer service, and billing activities (see Figure 2).

Figure 2.

Hospitals and health systems have pursued RPA in these areas as well and found success. One example written about in Forbes recently described the efforts of Baylor Scott & White Health (BSWHealth), an academic medical system with 52 different hospitals and the largest not-for-profit provider in Texas. BSWHealth uses RPA to automate “claim statusing” in its insurance collections department. The bot helps to check the status of outstanding insurance claims that, previously, a human employee would have to do by logging into multiple payer websites or placing phone calls. The RPA bot uses screen-scraping technology that mimics keystrokes the employee would enter to obtain claim statuses from payers. As a result, an abundance of claims—those that are accepted and scheduled to be paid—never clutter the employee’s desk. Instead, the employee only sees those that are denied and require human attention, resulting in outstanding claims being addressed faster. BSWHealth is pursuing a variety of RPA projects like this one across all of its revenue cycle departments. They reduced their total FTEs by over 20% while simultaneously reducing payer denials by 20%.

Success stories like this one are particularly exciting for hospitals struggling to manage their case load amidst the pandemic. Daily operations and procedures have been severely impacted financially and operationally by coronavirus. A recent survey conducted by the World Health Organization identified that almost half of the countries surveyed (49%) reported strains on their ability to treat diabetes, with 42% reporting the same for cancer and 31% struggling to properly manage cardiovascular emergencies. As a result, companies are pursuing automation opportunities more than ever before (see Figure 3), with Bain & Company reporting as many as 81% of hospitals pursuing RPA initiatives.

Figure 3.

Still, according to a 2019 white paper by The Economist, “extensive” use of automation is only used by half of healthcare organizations, and healthcare in general is among the most resistant to adopting it. Some healthcare organizations remain cautious for a variety of reasons, including concerns about initial investments, maintenance costs, and the possibility of failure. The same white paper also proposes that data privacy and security concerns might be a significant hinderance to RPA efforts, as well as a deficit in the skill sets needed to develop the bots.

Plus, any discussion of RPA sometimes begets fears about job replacement. In some scenarios, health systems have seen an overall decrease in FTEs after putting RPA initiatives in place. However, the overall goal is usually to reallocate effort toward more high-level, cognitive projects in a way that increases productivity without replacing people. If an administrative task requires no higher-level thinking, then giving it to an RPA bot will free up time for clinical staff to attend to patient care rather than paperwork. In fact, according to Harvard Business Review, most new adopters of RPA have promised their employees that it won’t result in layoffs.

Despite hesitations, health systems are likely to test out RPA projects in the coming years in response to the current state of affairs. Hospitals have been forced over the past year to find efficiencies where they can. RPA bots appear to have the potential for a variety of benefits, not the least of which is flexibility to redeploy personnel to areas in need of increased staffing. As RPA begins to make its way into the literature, it will be important to consider research findings about best practices going forward.

It will also be helpful going forward to share lessons learned with peer institutions. One of the goals of the MVC Coordinating Center is to support collaboration and idea sharing across its membership. If any member is implementing RPA projects and would be interested in sharing their experience with others, please contact the MVC Coordinating Center team at michiganvaluecollaborative@gmail.com.