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There's a lot of talk these days about how "clinical optimization" can be used to improve the workings of electronic health records (EHR) in healthcare. But what exactly is clinical optimization, and why is it important? 

In essence, "clinical optimization" boils down to simply uncovering the most efficient way to deliver clinical care within hospitals, clinics and outpatient environments — better, simpler, more efficiently and at lower cost. Whatever you think of the buzzword, these objectives are something all healthcare providers (and patients, too) can get behind.

They're also absolutely essential to delivering on the promise of electronic health records (EHR) to improve patient outcomes.

It's been more than a decade since EHR began going mainstream in healthcare organizations. Across the healthcare industry, billions of dollars have been invested in  efforts to evolve medical record-keeping from its paper-based roots to digital technology. And yet, for a variety of reasons, many healthcare professionals agree that EHR doesn't always live up to its marketing hype.

Systems designed to make healthcare easier to provide go unused, because they're seen as too complex to navigate. As a result, workflows multiply with the workarounds that healthcare staff devise to avoid using the technology. Processes get more complex, manual data entry continues alongside electronic records, and the promise of simple, easy-to-use EHR goes unfulfilled. 

Clinical optimization seeks to fix this by asking just a few simple questions: 

First, what is the current state of the health clinic? How long does it take on average to treat a patient? What processes are being used in treatment? How much does it cost? 

Second, who are the stakeholders interested in improving this situation? These persons should be given direct control over how the practice is "optimized." 

Third, what specifically do these stakeholders want to accomplish — or optimize — in the healthcare practice? Do they want to cut costs? Reduce the length of patient stay in a hospital? Codify best practices in treating specific illnesses?

Finally, how can the tools the clinic has in hand — including already paid-for EHR software and hardware — be used to achieve these goals? 

The answer to the fourth question might include additional training to fully exploit the capabilities of a clinic's EHR — or a management decision to not use or even "decommission" certain EHR capabilities that are more trouble than they're worth. Multiple workflows currently in use for treating a single illness can be reviewed, and the most efficient, effective and lowest cost solution chosen as the clinic's "best practice" so that the others can be avoided. 

After all, when you get right down to it, an EHR is just one tool in a healthcare practice's toolbox. Clinical optimization consists of choosing the best process, workflow and technology to accomplish the task at hand.


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Donna Morrow brings 20+ years of experience in the healthcare clinical and IT space. She started her career as a staff and charge nurse in fast-paced, high volume labor & delivery units, working for some of the largest IDN’s in the US. After many years in nursing, she turned her focus to clinical applications and the impact to the overall clinical workflow. Donna led teams responsible for the design, deployment, change management and support of multiple application systems, across all clinical service lines.