The Challenges and Rewards of Transparency in Healthcare

Transparency in business is a situation where “much is known by many,” according to Investopedia. Under this model, investors and consumers can access information about an organization’s business practices, financial status, and more details. From Health Catalyst, Bobbi Brown and Luke Skelley claim there is a call for greater transparency throughout the healthcare industry. Discover some of the challenges healthcare organizations face in achieving transparency and the benefits their efforts can achieve.

Challenges to Transparency

According to Brown and Skelley, a healthcare culture where quality metrics have been historically treated like closely guarded secrets can be a significant challenge to transparency. Changing this attitude means changing perceptions, and workplace politics can come into play.

At other times, obtaining the information that should become public is difficult. Often, only certain people, such as the head of the IT department, can access records. Naturally, these individuals have their own duties to perform, and helping administrators achieve transparency may not always be at the top of their priorities.

These obstacles can be difficult to overcome, but a range of potential benefits make striving for transparency worthwhile.

Transparency Can Improve Quality of Care

According to a report published by McKinsey’s Health Systems and Services Practice, transparency makes healthcare practitioners more accountable, which can lead to better patient outcomes. The report cites the example of cardiac surgeons in New York, who, in 1989, began publishing outcome data for coronary artery bypass grafting. Following this move toward greater transparency, mortality rates for the procedure fell by 40 percent.

Transparency Can Improve Productivity

Health care administrators learn strategies for motivating employees and helping them work more productively as part of an Executive Master of Health Administration degree program. However, many may not realize the power of transparency for increasing productivity. Whether comparative productivity information about employees is disseminated within a healthcare organization or made available to the wider community, healthcare workers tend to work harder because the scrutiny of peers helps improve performance, according to McKinsey’s Health Systems and Services Practice.

For example, the study cites Baltimore’s 1999 introduction of Citistat, a system which provided real-time tracking of public sector employees, including healthcare workers. Within 12 months, Citistat saved the city $13.2 million. By 2007, those savings had increased to $350 million.

Transparency Can Help Reduce Operating Costs

Transparency does not only have the potential to lower costs through increased productivity. Transparency can also encourage workers to make decisions that save healthcare administrations money. As Brown and Skelley state, “It is difficult to expect a hospital’s operating room workforce to reduce the cost of an operating room when they don’t know how much individual operating room resources cost.” Making these workers aware of the costs involved in their department can help them make more financial-based decisions.

In Becker’s Hospital Review, Dr. Toby Cosgrove, chief executive officer of the Cleveland Clinic, explains that his team tapes price lists to supply cabinets in some operating rooms to remind physicians of resource costs. “As part of the purchasing process, dozens of doctors gather to discuss the merits of certain products,” he adds.

Creating a transparent healthcare environment can be challenging, but the potential rewards can help motivate administrators to strive for a more information-shared workplace.

For more information please visit USC's Executive Master of Health Administration Online program.

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