"When people need help, no matter the time of day, they’re going to get it right away.” — Dr. James Whitfill, Chief Transformation Officer, HonorHealth

Oct 12 2020

How ServiceNow Supports Automation in Healthcare

The digital workflow platform automates critical processes to improve patient care and workplace satisfaction.

After joining HonorHealth in January 2019 to fill the new position of chief transformation officer, Dr. James Whitfill had one guiding principle: “Find ways to engage our customers better with digital technologies.”

About a year later, the arrival of COVID-19 would jump-start that goal.

“Pretty much overnight, our nurse call lines were completely overwhelmed with incoming calls, and they literally couldn’t bring enough people in,” recalls Whitfill, whose team presented the Phoenix-area organization with a solution: the digital workflow platform known as ServiceNow.

“My team said, ‘We know exactly what we need.’”

In the months before the pandemic hit, Whitfill and his colleagues collaborated with leaders across HonorHealth’s six hospitals to explore how technologies like chatbots and asynchronous symptom checkers might digitally transform the care experience.

The organization had relied for years on ServiceNow — a cloud-based Platform as a Service tool designed to automate internal services — primarily within the IT department.

What about using the platform to fight COVID-19? “We saw it as a perfect fit; the kind of scenario where it might really make a difference,” Whitfill says.

His team got the go-ahead, and within four days it had programmed a simple chatbot to handle the bulk of COVID-19-related queries.

READ MORE: Learn how ServiceNow integrates and optimizes healthcare IT delivery.

Now, when people visit the HonorHealth website with coronavirus concerns, they’re met with a homepage banner that directs to a link for more information. There, visitors can click on a tab to use a COVID-19 symptom checker or chat live with a nurse.

Either way, “if it sounds like the person may have COVID, it tells them to call the nurse line,” Whitfill says. “If it seems like they’re someone who’s probably not at risk, it lets them know they should follow up if anything changes.”

These and other automation capabilities supported via ServiceNow, users say, have the potential to drive better efficiency, safety and satisfaction.

“When people need help, no matter the time of day, they’re going to get it right away,” Whitfill says. “And when they’re OK, it lets clinicians focus on other things — like helping the patients they already have.”

Getting Back to the Basics

As healthcare organizations pursue digital transformation projects to streamline operations and improve patient outcomes, many have found a key resource is a workflow automation platform such as ServiceNow.

“The issue for a lot of organizations is that individual departments each have their own systems that operate independently from the others,” says ESG senior analyst Mark Bowker.

Those independent systems may work well enough but can lead to inefficiencies across a large organization. “The value of using an integrated workflow platform is it does away with that siloed approach,” Bowker says. “When you bring everything together into one place, your processes become a lot simpler.”

That notion guides efforts at the University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System, says Audrius Polikaitis, the organization’s CIO.

In 2016, UI Health was seeking to improve the quality and effectiveness of its customer service via IT — a suggestion from the system’s CEO. “We’d always been sort of interested in the next big initiative instead of making sure what we had was actually working for people.” Polikaitis says.

“He made the point we should focus on the basics.”

With that in mind, the Chicago-based organization turned to ServiceNow “as a way to minimize the repetitive tasks that slowed us down and to handle the kind of work a machine can do better than a human,” Polikaitis says. “It’s helped us refine our processes so they’re how we want them, and now we’re looking at what we might automate.”

That effort, he notes, is a work in progress, but already the department is making fewer errors and improving its work order response time.

6 in 10

The number of healthcare ­organizations moving custom workflows and process management to cloud-based platforms such as ServiceNow

Source: IDC Health Insights, “Transforming the Healthcare Experience Through Improved Workflows,” June 2019

Once Polikaitis’ team completed its foray into IT workflow optimization, the group started thinking about other corners of UI Health that could benefit. Among them: human resources, patient financial services and enterprise education.

“You start thinking, ‘Where are all the places in the organization where somebody puts in a request for something and then someone else provides a response?’” Polikaitis says, noting that teams across the health system now use the ServiceNow platform in some capacity. “We’re far better as an organization because of it.”

A similar success story has unfolded at CHRISTUS Health, which for several years has relied on ServiceNow to support IT management and human resources across more than 60 hospitals in Texas, Louisiana and New Mexico.

“It’s been a huge help for us when it comes to things like tracking equipment we’ve put to use,” says Lynn Gibson, vice president and CTO for the Irving, Texas-based organization. “But it’s also been a helpful tool for our employees when they need support themselves.”

Using the Platform for Crisis Management

In 2017, the platform proved critical when communities served by CHRISTUS Health were slammed by Hurricane Harvey. Many employees required assistance after the storm, which caused extensive property damage across the region.

Within 24 hours, the organization added electronic forms to its ServiceNow HR Service Delivery portal so employees could donate money to colleagues in need. “It was the same thing this year with Hurricane Laura,” Gibson says.

DISCOVER: Learn how CHRISTUS Health simplified its data center with hyperconvergence.

The platform, meanwhile, is there to augment everyday HR processes — the organization has dubbed it My CHRISTUS Life — but during an emergency scenario like a hurricane or COVID-19, it becomes a resource hub.

In the end, Gibson says, digital workflow platforms such as ServiceNow are meant to drive improvements in patient care. By facilitating processes and breaking down silos, they help healthcare organizations and the departments within them serve customers’ needs.

The circumstances needn’t be large: CHRISTUS Health clinicians deploy the system to automatically populate service request forms to get help faster when a device isn’t working properly.

“It’s nothing glamorous, just nuts-and-bolts efficiency,” Gibson says. “It’s something we depend on every day.”

Photography By Steve Craft