The Importance of a Digital Healthcare Competency Management Program

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Throughout COVID-19, those in the healthcare industry have continuously scaled their organizational processes and operations to meet changing industry demands and health regulations. From the C-Suite to our nurses and doctors working directly with patients, the healthcare competencies to keep healthcare organizations working and taking care of patients have been ever-changing. 

Tom White, Kahuna’s VP of Product Management, recently sat down with Brie Dance, Intermountain Healthcare’s Product Manager, to talk about Intermountain’s use of healthcare competency data throughout the pandemic, which has helped them navigate the changing industry landscape and make informed data-driven decisions about caregiver orientation and onboarding, assessments, training, staffing, and development. This data helped Intermountain quickly staff up caregivers and shift business processes to meet patient needs. Three key messages emerged from this discussion: Standardization, Scaling Quickly, and Change Management.

Cost Savings Through Standardized Healthcare Competencies

Q: Tom White, Kahuna Workforce Solutions

As a health system, share insights about the business drivers behind a skills program.

A: Brie Dance, Intermountain Healthcare

I would say one of the key characteristics of Intermountain Healthcare is that not only are they at the forefront of evidence-based care models and actual patient care that’s provided at the bedside, but they’ve always been at the forefront as an example of preparedness and keeping the revenue model to support our doors being open, not just next month or next year but five years, 10 years, and 20 years from now.

About 11 years ago around the time the ACA was being birthed, we knew there would be huge changes in healthcare. For a lot of them, we didn’t know what to anticipate. We knew that we were going to fight harder for every dollar of reimbursement that our providers in our organization or in our facilities would get. And rightly so, because we want to lower the cost of delivery to our patients. And so we took that knowing it would be years before we felt the full impact of revenue models and reimbursement models. And as an operations team, how can we improve the quality of care at the bedside, which we know is actually part of the reimbursement model now that wasn’t then, and how can we reduce the cost to get our caregivers – when I use the term caregiver, it’s inclusive of nurses, respiratory therapists, physicians – how can we get them prepared to take care of the higher acuity, the shifting matrices of our patients at a lower cost? In our organization, being as large as we are, we realized across 25 major healthcare centers in 200 clinics and 40,000 employees, that we were probably doing things differently and doing things in a siloed approach. We had a really brilliant AVP, Tammy Richards, who’s still with our organization. Her philosophy was: If we want to get to the top of that risk, we have to hit the summit first and we all go to the summit together. 

We knew that standardization was key, and so we first worked in that upfront investment of developing our technological model that we call a framework, the taxonomy, the consistency, understanding what the roles were, and then we built the framework. And then we realized there was no way to keep the quality of the standardization we had worked so hard to develop without a way of digitally managing the content and assigning it. That’s what ultimately led us to Kahuna. We had the framework, we had the content that every healthcare system in America so desperately needed, but we had no way to really deliver it and realize the value of the savings we knew were there. Since implementing digital healthcare competency management in 2013, we’ve now saved over $20 million in direct budgetary savings, and we’ve also been able to salvage 38 FTEs in our organization by delivering a better product at a significantly lower cost to the organization.

Quickly Scale to Meet Industry Demands

Q: Tom White

That’s awesome. I think one thing to take away is consistency and the standardization of approach. Everyone using the same language in the same kind of known area of skills is key. And then you’ve also talked about the language of the business, which is so important with L&D initiatives. You have to understand the business impact you’re having, and it’s quite often huge. If you can get your head around the business and have that thinking process going into the program, the outcomes are great.

To get into the core tenant of today’s conversation, could you dive into the last seven months and the impact they’ve had on Intermountain specifically? Remote working because of COVID-19, and in healthcare, has had huge impacts. Could you tee up some of the challenges that have been brought up, or maybe opportunities? And really, where the skills programs that you manage fit into that conversation? Where does it support, what are the challenges, and so on?

A: Brie Dance

2020. I mean I think we should just hashtag COVID. I think every industry and vertical has been impacted in some way and in many ways by COVID. Being in healthcare, we’re really at the forefront of this. And it’s impacted our organization in many ways. Our brilliant CEO Mark Harrison said recently, “COVID isn’t the sole root cause of the changes that we’re seeing, but it’s a rapid accelerator for the changes that we’re seeing.” So I would say, three really, really big things, and I’ll just touch on them really briefly. The first one is the rise of telehealth, and really remote access in general. Intermountain Healthcare has been at the forefront of telehealth services for years now and was probably one of the first organizations to offer telehealth services, and we provide consulting and services really across the country for that.

But this is the rise of telehealth and you will see that more so going forward as you access care. And it’s awesome because it lowers costs, and it makes health care more accessible to each of us individually in our own homes. But in order to provide that you have to be able to train the caregivers to administer and run telehealth programs so we needed to be able to rapidly ramp that offering in our organization, and I would say that COVID has been a huge accelerator for that, and having our framework in place along with a really robust platform like Kahuna has really enabled us to flex that in time as needed.

Q: Tom White

And Brie, just a quick question there. Telehealth being huge, is really a huge business shift for healthcare and your healthcare competencies?

A: Brie Dance

Huge Business.

Q: Tom White

Okay so specifically, how do you use your skills program? Have you created new skills to multi-skill or reskill your workforce?

A: Brie Dance

Yeah, so we realized there would be new competencies and roles related to telehealth. Pre-COVID, there would have been maybe half a dozen roles that we used to train caregivers in telehealth and now that telehealth is really King and people don’t want to leave their homes, but they still need healthcare, we’ve had to expand these services and train in many different roles. So new competencies, retraining, and rapid redeployment to caregivers that may have had some of the training and having that visibility. So yeah, there’s been rapid growth in our healthcare competency framework and refinement to flush out some of the things that really aren’t relevant in healthcare right now.

Equipping Caregivers Through Change Management

Q: Tom White

How did the employees within Intermountain respond to technology tracking their capabilities and development?

A: Brie Dance

Yeah, I would actually have to say nurses come out of the shoot pretty young. So we have generational challenges and the nurses that fit more of the baby boomer generation were more reticent to having their skills and capabilities tracked digitally, but even more so than that, were just reticent of having another platform that they were having to use in their workflow. Our younger nurses, our millennials, the GenZers, no problem at all. They embrace it, they like it, they use it, they want rapid career progression. They want to be seen for what they can do. They want to be recognized for what they do on a daily basis, so that’s a really great fit. Overall, you’ll find pockets of challenge and I think that’s where you work collaboratively with your interdisciplinary teams to create that culture of digitization and being a digital organization. You make that really transparent and obvious in everything that you do and you make a digital approach whenever you can, I think that’s helpful.

Q: Tom White

I think transparency is key and highlighting the “What’s in it for me?” You have to enable change management and explain to the nurse or whomever why you’re doing this. For nurses, it really has such an impact. They can spend more time doing the job they want to do and less time filling out paperwork from an onboarding perspective.

To Recap:

Having a digitized healthcare competency framework enables your health system to rapidly respond to changing industry regulations, train your caregivers, and deploy them where they’re needed as quickly as possible.

  1. Standardization: Invest in your digital competency platform to keep the competencies and framework you’ve worked so hard to create, standard across your care units, hospital, and organization.
  2. Scaling Quickly: Shift and refine your competency framework quickly to include new competencies or edit current competencies when new priorities within the healthcare industry arise.
  3. Change Management: Explain to your employees why you’re implementing a digital skills and competency management system and how it will impact them specifically within their careers, as well as how it helps the organization
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