Health Care Project Managers: Here’s the Key to Scaling Up

Health care project managers carry the weight of a lot of responsibility. Planning, overseeing, and evaluating initiatives that have a direct impact on the health of Ontarians is no small feat.

No matter what organization she works for, a project manager has to see the big picture—and be aware of the details. She has to know when to delegate, while at the same time remaining vigilant. In short, she’s responsible for the health care initiative, project, or program she oversees at every stage. Needless to say, she must always be aware of how her team is contributing to provincial objectives.

Unfortunately, at a time when budgets in the sector are tight, taking on a management role is especially stressful. Doing more with less is an absolute necessity. But is it even possible? Is there a way for managers to stretch existing resources in order to serve a larger segment of the population?

The fact is, there’s no other choice. And if you’re a health care project manager, you’re up to the challenge. In this post, we’ll consider the scope of your job—and look at some tools and processes that just might help you scale up operations.

The urgent need for more cost-effective care

Across Canada, the health care sector is under serious pressure. Budgets are tight. Policymakers are faced with tough decisions. And those responsible for care delivery are feeling the pinch.

In Ontario, health care expenses are projected to grow by 5.3% per year. This number, published in a recent report from the Financial Accountability Office (FAO), poses challenges for the current administration.

Of course, home care has been an ongoing part of the solution. By funding care in the community, policymakers have been able to support cost-effective services that are in line with patient preferences.

Here’s a quick comparison. It costs, on average, $42 for one day of home care for a patient in Ontario. For a hospital bed, that number is $842—a very significant leap.

The transition to more community-based care is in effect. If you work in home care, you’re well aware that this shift could lead to the more efficient use of resources across the province. But it doesn’t go far enough.

The Liberal government has promised to limit the growth of health care spending to 1.7% annually over the next three years. But the FAO says this target will be difficult to reach without further budget cuts.

In other words, the pressure is mounting. And publicly-funded health agencies—including those responsible for overseeing home care—should be aware of how they’re likely to be impacted.

Currently, there are health care initiatives in place that focus on providing more effective care in order to cut costs. By improving areas such as home care, care coordination, and service for Ontario’s top health care users, they’re transforming the health care system.

While these initiatives will likely lead to major savings, their current operating costs are, of course, considerable. Reducing these costs is one of the keys to future success.

An (seemingly) impossible challenge

If you work in health care, you’re aware of the budgetary pressure in your sector. But if you’re a health care project manager, you’re really feeling it.

Initiatives with the potential to save health care dollars need to be scaled up. They need to be implemented in such a way that they provide cost-efficient care for the largest possible number of patients. Without this type of optimization, the most practical initiative in the world won’t help the province meet its targets.

Of course, somebody needs to be responsible for making sure each project contributes to the province’s objectives. For every cost-cutting initiative, there’s a highly-motivated professional defining deliverables, tracking milestones, and evaluating progress.

Health care project managers have to understand the big picture—and keep an eye on the small details. It’s a stressful job in the best of circumstances. But when the pressure to serve more patients with fewer resources is as intense as it is now, success can seem nearly impossible.

That said, many managers— as well as organizational decision makers and frontline wokers—are up for the challenge.

As just one example, consider the Champlain Local Health Integration Network (LHIN). In October of 2016, the LHIN announced its intention to expand its regional Health Links.

At the time, Health Links, which focuses on coordinating care for high-needs patients, was serving 560 clients in the region. By 2019, Champlain hopes to increase that number to 10,000.

Bold ambitions are exactly what’s needed right now—and not just in Ontario.

Quebec has been looking for ways to contain health care spending, which accounts for about 40% of provincial spending. And last month, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority cut $83 million in spending at the behest of the Manitoba government.

There’s little doubt that health care project managers across Canada are looking for ways to keep costs down.

Meeting targets through innovation

Is setting ambitious targets a recipe for failure? And with limited resources, how can you ever hope to scale up and meet goals that align with provincial objectives?

Health care project managers believe they can tackle major challenges. You might work at Public Health Ontario, Health Quality Ontario, or one of the province’s LHINs. What you share with other managers is your commitment to finding a solution for every problem that arises.

There are managers in place to oversee all kinds of projects. But what about those who focus on creating change that starts with the health care system’s most valuable resource?

If you’re managing the actions taken by health care professionals, innovation can help. In fact, practically any initiative can be made more effective with the right digital technology.

How? By streamlining communication and making it easy to securely store and exchange health information.

Consider how much easier mobile technology has made life over the course of the last decade. Now think of the implications for health care delivery—particularly when it comes to care in the community.

Expanding home care is one of the ways Ontario is reducing health care costs without sacrificing patient-centredness. Of course, one of the biggest concerns regarding this model of care delivery has to do with geographic distance.

But the fact is, when circles of care are closely connected via technology, care quality doesn’t suffer. It simply becomes more efficient, and more scalable. Here are just a few examples.

With videoconferencing apps, health care practitioners can check in on at-home patients—anytime. For care recipients, touchscreen capabilities make connecting with caregivers as easy as tapping a tablet screen. This type of monitoring reduces the chances of costly hospital readmissions.

These same capabilities can also extend the reach of specialists and other in-demand practitioners. For example, a wound care specialist can coach home care nurses through new procedures in real time.

The right digital apps also have the data storage capacity, security, and navigability to enable care teams to share patient care plans over long distances.

When it comes to providing quality care to more patients—without breaking budgets—the value of technology is clear.

Toward a more connected—and efficient—future

Recent home and community care initiatives represent a major step toward cost-efficient care. The examples above describe just a few of the ways that digital technology—and systems accessible via mobile devices, in particular—can make this care more scalable, leading to further cost savings.

For the health care project managers who make ongoing care provincial initiatives possible, embracing innovation is a win-win.

Feature image courtesy of Bernard Goldbach

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