How WakeMed’s Path to Digital Maturity Led to Measurable Outcomes

Article Summary

The Wake Way to Excellence emphasizes standardization, reducing care variation, and enhancing patient well-being by advancing healthcare data and analytics and digital maturity across the organization. Experts detail WakeMed’s journey, highlighting the investment required. Their progress serves as a blueprint for organizations aiming to enhance their analytics and clinical capabilities.

Insight Digital Maturity Wakemed

Editor’s Note: This article is based on a presentation at the Healthcare Analytics Summit 2024 (HAS 24), entitled “Improving Patient Lives: Maturing a Digital Transformation Program,” presented by Neal Chawla, MD, FACEP, Chief Medical Information Officer, and Scotta Orr, MPH, RN, CPHQ, Manager of Clinical Process Improvement at WakeMed Health & Hospitals.

Over the course of four years, WakeMed Health & Hospitals (WakeMed) embarked on a transformative journey to enhance its digital and clinical operations. Initially starting from ground zero on the HIMSS Adoption Model for Analytics Maturity scale, WakeMed diligently worked towards implementing advanced analytics to derive insights from healthcare data to improve patient care outcomes. 

Through strategic investments in innovative technologies and methodologies, WakeMed strived to seamlessly integrate digital solutions to optimize business intelligence and overcome obstacles in patient care delivery. Known as The Wake Way to Excellence, their approach focused on standardizing and expanding best practices to reduce unnecessary variations in care, among other goals. 

Neal Chawla, MD, FACEP, Chief Medical Information Officer, and Scotta Orr, MPH, RN, CPHQ, Manager of Clinical Process Improvement, both of WakeMed, recounted the health system’s four-year odyssey toward achieving digital and analytics maturity and operational excellence, recognizing how these outcomes require investments in time, finances, and human capital. 

Year One: Digital Transformation Commences

In the inaugural year, WakeMed selected a handful of improvement projects that demonstrated a significant need for healthcare data and more streamlined operations.

They began the process by assembling a trio of specialized technical, process improvement, and clinical teams to spearhead its path to transformation. These groups worked in unison with the goals of pinpointing optimal practices and establishing care pathways to deliver tangible enhancements, creating the analytics and dashboards essential for evaluating the outcomes of these projects, and collaborating with healthcare providers to ensure the adoption of these newly developed pathways.

They gained several key insights in this initial phase. Among them, the importance of:

  • Planning and preparing in advance to ensure dashboards deliver valuable insights. 
  • Establishing a scalable healthcare data framework that can adapt to evolving reporting and analytics needs. 
  • Keeping processes simple at the onset to foster acceptance and modify as needed.

Initial progress led to improved Early Recovery After Surgery (ERAS) care pathways for cardiac surgery, which reduced relative mortality rates by 72.4 percent and relative readmission rates by 16.5 percent.

Year Two: Uniformity and Expansion Underway

During its sophomore year, WakeMed broadened its initial endeavors by emphasizing uniformity and effective procedural methods. They prioritized core clinical issues, initially focusing on essential care pathways such as ERAS, which they decided were widely applicable and could quickly expand to other patient groups.

This growth phase included 15 projects addressing other patient populations. For instance, the adoption of uniform ERAS care pathways markedly enhanced cesarean section outcomes, resulting in a 54 percent relative decrease in the need for re-hospitalization among new mothers.

Year Three: Data and Clinical Transformation Align with Physician Incentive Pay

By the third year of its journey towards digital modernization, the healthcare system leaders revisited collaborations from the first year, enhancing those early initiatives with tailored solutions and advanced data analysis capabilities. They also initiated a strategic move to sync its digital overhaul efforts with incentive models for physicians. They discovered that incentivizing doctors with financial rewards based on their Clinical-EBP (Evidence-Based Practice) performance resulted in their increased engagement in the process of modernization.

During this phase, the health system achieved improved healthcare outcomes for 27 distinct patient groups, surpassing the target of enhancing care for 25 groups, which they attributed to aligning physician incentives with organizational goals.

Year Four and Beyond: Healthcare Data Governance and Service Line Enhancements

WakeMed’s fourth year of transformative efforts escalated its commitment to refining data governance and merging its digital overhaul initiatives with its service lines more effectively. The project’s reach expanded, resulting in clinical and operational improvements and more sustainable approaches to addressing complex care pathways.

By fortifying its data governance framework, WakeMed ensured the consistency and trustworthiness of data throughout the institution. Leaders from various service lines actively shared results and insights from transformations with senior management, promoting a culture that valued accountability and ongoing enhancement. 

The health system also broadened its focus to include operational efficiencies, applying standard processes to various aspects of its operations, concentrating on key areas vital for optimal hospital function, such as minimizing the likelihood of extended patient stays, enhancing the efficiency of revenue cycles, and improving human resources procedures.

The Imperative of Digital Maturation, Transformation Today

WakeMed’s digital transformation journey offers valuable lessons on the indispensable role of organizational culture and interpersonal relationships in achieving meaningful data-driven improvements. 

It also underscores the significance of planning and simplicity in fostering successful analytics initiatives by emphasizing the need for alignment and integration across all operational aspects before embarking on projects. Their approach of laying a robust data infrastructure and prioritizing clear communication channels amongst stakeholders has proven essential in enhancing patient care services. 

As WakeMed’s evolution continues, each year’s achievements and challenges have influenced subsequent projects, providing a valuable blueprint for other organizations seeking to advance their digital and clinical capabilities.

Additional Reading

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WakeMed’s Clinical Transformation Earns 2024 Catalyst Award for Quality and Cost

Health Catalyst’s Analytics Solutions Save WakeMed Health & Hospitals $10 Million, Accelerates Clinical Transformation

Improved Patient Access and Increased Demand Contribute to Additional Revenue

Five Practical Steps to Healthcare Data Governance

Three Data Governance Principles for Massive Healthcare Improvement

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