While every industry faces the pressure to deliver the best quality service in the most cost-effective way, the stakes are undoubtedly highest in the healthcare industry. Here, the safety and wellbeing of all involved is directly impacted by the success or failure of the strategies and methodologies deployed in day-to-day operation. A reduction in performance or a lack of due diligence in a healthcare organization can mean the difference between timely medical treatment and dangerous delays. Spiralling costs can mean the difference between an optimized workforce providing cutting-edge treatments and an understaffed workforce dealing with a lack of resources.
Though the stakes are higher than in any other industry, the same principles of successful operation apply. The balance of quality and cost-effectiveness is achieved through Contract Management best practice strategies that are designed with compliance in mind. This is because healthcare – regardless of location or territory – is a business. People are employed, suppliers and vendors are engaged, and a service is provided in exchange for payment, regardless of whether that payment is made through insurance, tax contributions, or by direct settlement.
Healthcare industry contracts
The specific, overall goal for the healthcare industry is to increase efficiency while maintaining patient care, and it is in Contract Management that we see just how complex this task can become. Healthcare organizations and settings use contracts for multiple purposes, in a variety of ways. These can include:
- IT contracts
- Employment contracts
- Equipment and supplies vendors
- Patient agreements
- Security contracts
- Partnership agreements with other organizations
- Physician agreements
- PR and media contracts
- Transfer agreements
Each of those types of agreement has different requirements and different potential impacts on the levels of efficiency within the healthcare organization. This indicates the importance of comprehensive Contract Management, as well as the flexibility that is needed in that management solution. By applying the best principles of general Contract Management to the healthcare industry, therefore, Healthcare Contract Management becomes a process that increases efficiency while not only ensuring patient care, but also creating scope for further innovation.
Compliance in healthcare
In healthcare, compliance encompasses all the processes required to ensure all legal, ethical and professional standards are met or exceeded – whether those standards are internal or external. Within that is the specific process of ensuring all contractual obligations are met, and this aids efficiency and cost-effectiveness. By increasing focus on compliance throughout the organization, all Contract Management processes are kept under the strictest control. This is a vital element of Risk Management, reducing the likelihood of delay or missed deadline. This close relationship between compliance and Contract Management demonstrates that when compliance and contract control are prioritized, efficiency can be increased with no reduction in patient care.
Like Contract Management, the compliance area of the healthcare industry is complex, encompassing a number of different parts of the organization. These can include:
- Research standards – For organizations and teams in receipt of research funding in particular, the requirement to comply with research standards is strict and difficult to achieve and maintain. There can be numerous regulatory elements from a variety of sources to consider in each research project.
- Patient care – The safety, wellbeing and outcomes of each patient is at the heart of any healthcare organization. Patient care is therefore paramount, and all elements that contribute to it are highly regulated.
- Billing – Any organization that has a billing system must comply with stringent regulations and guidelines relating to the method of invoicing and the handling of finances. Compliance in this area is essential to avoid legal conflict over payments, as well as the scrutiny of authorities regarding financial impropriety and money laundering.
- Employment – The employment of individuals in any territory is highly regulated, and compliance requires close monitoring of individual performance as well as adherence to commitments of training, safety, progression, and benefits.
- Privacy and confidentiality – In the modern age, privacy and confidentiality are highly regulated and, in healthcare, this pertains to staff as well as patients.
In addition, the healthcare organization must comply with every obligation in every contract, regardless of contract type. Complicating the area of compliance in healthcare further is the fact that regulations and requirements are frequently changed or updated, making the task of ensuring compliance across the organization extremely challenging. With so many variables, a wide-ranging software solution is required.
Contract Management Software in healthcare
With the need for a software solution being so clear, what should Contract Management Software in health care look like? In understanding the challenges faced by the industry, we can understand the features that are most important when choosing a software solution that prioritizes efficiency and compliance.
With so many different types of contracts used in the healthcare industry, the quickest way to effect the most impactful change, in terms of increasing efficiency, is centralization. Without it, Contract Management cannot be optimized. A non-centralized approach to Contract Management has legal documentation stored throughout the organization, in different departments. This causes delays by creating the need to first access the right department before finding the information required. It also makes data analysis of more than one contract type very difficult to achieve, thereby limiting the amount of data available for informed decision-making. Storing all contract data in a centralized repository means that the process of identifying and surfacing information is faster, while the entire contract collection is transformed into a single, powerful data source.
With all contract documentation centralized, standardization is the next step in creating efficiency. This is achieved by agreeing an organization-wide policy on categorization, metadata and data tagging, and applying it to the documentation in a consistent way. When this becomes standard, the power of the repository as a data source is optimized. It means that the data can be accurately filtered as necessary to surface information in response to any type of query, at all levels of granularity. This improves planning in all areas, as well as the organizational capacity for a proactive approach to streamlining.
The centralized repository also supports the creation of a library of standardized clauses, language and templates, which means contracts can be authored quickly, and with the full confidence that approved language has been used. This speeds up the contracting process and is therefore beneficial to all areas – from supplier and vendor relationships to patient agreements that are critical to the delivery of care and treatment.
- Risk Management suite
Effective Risk Management is crucial to Compliance efforts in any organization, but particularly in the healthcare industry. The priority must always be to reduce risk to the patient, but this is highly complex. There are many variables that impact the patient outcome, regardless of the type of treatment and care they require. Staff experience and training, supplier and vendor selection, the maintenance and security of premises, the handling of private information – all these points involve legal agreements and can be a source of either efficiency or damaging delays. A comprehensive Risk Management Suite is therefore essential in healthcare Contract Management.
Any Contract Management Software used in healthcare must include tools for designing and completing thorough risk assessments that can be applied to all areas of the operation and contract process. Within this should be tools for undertaking comprehensive background checks on individuals and organizations, and the tools needed to create accurate risk profiles for the same. This ensures that the most up to date compliance regulations can be used as a framework against which risk assessments are completed, helping the healthcare organization boost compliance levels.
- Automated workflows
The inclusion of a high degree of automation in any Contract Management Software solution is an important element of Risk Management. Automation removes human input from basic administrative tasks, thereby reducing the risk of human error. When workflows are automated, the software can be programmed to deliver the right task to the right person at the right time, in accordance with the needs of the organization and the specific detail of each contract. This creates efficiency by ensuring that dates, deadlines, and milestones are not missed, and that timeframes and delivery schedules are meticulously followed.
Going further, the automation of workflows equips the healthcare organization with the tools necessary to identify workflow issues in a proactive way. Bottlenecks can be highlighted before issues become legal conflict, and data-based decisions can be made to rectify those bottlenecks ahead of time. These types of delays can be caused by staffing issues, including training.
- Electronic signatures
The use of electronic signatures can make a big difference to efficiency in a healthcare organization. Firstly, the speed at which contracts are approved is greatly increased, because electronic signatures do not require the manual transport of documentation. Approvals can be given remotely and be received instantly. Secondly, the instantaneous, remote nature of electronic signatures makes contract approval far more cost-effective. The manual transportation of ‘wet signatures’ incurs direct cost as well as time delays, so remote approvals reduce those expenses. Lastly, electronic signatures improve the ‘green credentials’ of the organization by reducing its carbon footprint. This includes the use of supplies – such as paper – as well as the emissions generated by manual transportation of documentation.
- Permission-based access
The use of cloud technology in Contract Management Software allows for a browser-based design which, in turn, allows for permission-based access. This means that authorized personnel can log in from any web-enabled device in any internet-connected location and can do so securely. In terms of compliance, this is a highly effective measure because it ensures that comprehensive audit trails are consistently created. All activity is logged which builds transparency and accountability and ensures accuracy in versioning of all documentation.
- Encrypted data transfer
Compliance also requires the strict adherence to security and privacy regulations, so the security protocols of any Contract Management Software system must provide stringent protection. With solutions based in cloud technology, encrypted data transfer is essential. Though the centralized repository provides protection by keeping all documentation in a single location, encrypted data transfer ensures that data is safe when moved, and when accessed. Having this feature within the software creates a layered cybersecurity system, because it works in conjunction with the security protocols of the cloud provider.
With a centralized, standardized contract collection, any software solution also needs a powerful reporting tool to filter and extract actionable data. Automation can be applied to deliver comprehensive reporting at regular frequencies, with more specific, occasional reporting also possible, as necessary, in response to changing situations. Here, agreed Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) can be used to inform data analysis that is customizable and determined by the needs of the operation. The consistent monitoring of contract performance is a key part of Risk Management, Compliance and efficiency building measures, because it is the fastest way to implement a proactive approach to streamlining and the identification of potential issues.
- Bespoke implementation
Even within a single industry, organizations operate in different ways. This is especially true of healthcare, which often evolves to meet the needs of regional patient demographics. This is why bespoke implementation of Contract Management Software is vital for a successful solution roll-out. Compliance and Risk Management tools can be customized to incorporate the regulations applicable to the territories covered, with scope for scalability and flexibility included. Automated processes also build in a high degree of customization, along with the way in which the solution is integrated with existing systems.
Symfact for healthcare
The Symfact Contract Management Software platform provides all the features required for successful management of contracts in healthcare. The browser-based platform is specifically designed to increase efficiency and cost-effectiveness while maintaining a high quality of service and can be customized to suit any industry – including healthcare. Indeed, with an emphasis on Compliance and effective Risk Management, Symfact’s Contract Management Software provides the comprehensive approach that is needed to deliver the right results for the organization with the best outcomes for the patients. Contact Symfact today to find out more about how this platform can support Compliance and Contract Management in healthcare organizations and arrange your free demonstration.