(Excuse my mug! It’s my current @wareFLO Twitter avatar.)
I am delighted to write the foreword to BPM in Healthcare. Forewords traditionally deal with genesis and scope. I’ll tell you why I, an emissary from the medical informatics and health IT community, traveled to another land, that of Business Process Management (BPM). I hope to convince you that the sky is the limit when it comes to the potential scope of BPM in healthcare. And, finally, I assure you this is the right book to start you on your own exciting path to healthcare workflow technology self-discovery.
I first wrote about “Business Process Management” (BPM) in a 2004 health IT conference proceedings paper entitled EHR Workflow Management Systems: Essentials, History, Healthcare. But I’d been writing about workflow systems in healthcare since 1995. From the Journal of Subacute Care:
In 2004 I applied the Workflow Management Coalition’s (WfMC.org) Workflow Reference Model terminology to an Electronic Health Record (EHR) ambulatory patient encounter. (The Workflow Reference Model itself dates from 1994.)
I attended my first BPM conference in 2010 (BPM in Government, which had a healthcare track). At that and many subsequent BPM (and Case Management) conferences I met many of the BPM experts and workflow professionals who co-authored many of the Future Strategies’ publications currently sitting on my own bookshelf. In particular, I’d like to thank Keith Swenson, (My Sandbox, Your Sandbox, in this volume) for answering my incessant questions and welcoming health IT colleagues to BPM venues over the years. Eventually I even became a judge in the annual BPM and Case Management excellence awards.
That’s where BPM in Healthcare comes from in my personal journey. But where is BPM in Healthcare going? The biggest big picture within which to appraise the potential for BPM to transform healthcare is The Fourth Industrial Revolution2. The Fourth Industrial Revolution (also known as Industry 4.0) is not about any individual technology, such as steam power, electrification, or computing (the first three industrial revolutions). The Fourth Industrial Revolution is not even about the Internet of Things (IoT), 3D printing, self-driving cars, artificial intelligence, or big data. It is about the interaction among all these technologies. In other words, The Fourth Industrial Revolution is not about innovative technologies, but innovative systems of technologies. It is about multiple, different, complementary, interlocking, and rapidly evolving technology sub-systems becoming part of an even larger, and way more complex, super-system, a system of systems. Wearing my systems engineering hat, I will argue that the Fourth Industrial Revolution is therefore about processes and workflows.
How do systems engineers manage system complexity? With models. Systems engineers gather data and optimize these models. These optimized models then drive system behavior. Then more data is used to optimize, and so on. In the old days, systems engineers sometimes gathered data with stopwatches and clipboards. I did exactly this, when I built simulation models of patient flow. Today, the Internet of Things and Machine Learning are reducing time scales to collect and process data down to mere seconds. And today, process-aware systems, such as BPM suites, orchestrate and choreograph system processes and workflows, potentially in seconds.
What are “process-aware” systems? These are information systems that explicitly represent, in database format, models of processes and workflows. The models are continually informed by data. The models are continually consulted when deciding what to do, say, or steer next. While process-aware systems “introspect,” they are not “aware” in a conscious sense, but rather in the sense that they can reason with these models; in real-time, in response to their environment and to exhibit intelligent behaviors that would not otherwise be possible.
Currently the industry most adept at representing work, workflow, and process explicitly, in a database, and using this data to drive, monitor, and improve process and workflow is called the Business Process Management industry. Why is BPM so relevant to creating and managing effective, efficient, flexible, and satisfying systems or systems? Because, as Wil van der Aalst, a leading BPM researcher writes, “WFM/BPM systems are often the ’spider in the web’ connecting different technologies” (and therefore different technology systems).
BPM, while not a direct descendent of early artificial intelligence research, inherits important similar characteristics. First, both distinguish between domain knowledge that is acted upon and various kinds of engines that act on, and are driven by, changing domain knowledge. Workflow engines are like expert systems specializing in workflow (warning, a very loose analogy!). Just as expert systems have reasoning engines, workflow systems have workflow engines.
Second, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are critically about knowledge representation. Early AI used logic; current ML uses neural network connection strengths.
Finally, many AI systems, especially in the areas of natural language processing and computational linguistics, communicate with human users. When I say “communicate” I don’t just mean data goes in and comes out. I mean they communicate in a psychological and cognitive sense. Just as humans use language to achieve goals, so do some AI systems. Communication between humans and workflow systems is rudimentary, but real. Workflow systems represent the same kinds of things human leverage during communication: goals, intentions, plans, workflows, tasks and actions. These representations are, essentially, the user interface in many workflow systems.
To sum up, The Fourth Industrial Revolution is not about any one product, technology, or even system. It is about innovation in how multiple systems of technology come together. Process-aware technology, such as business process management, will play a key role in gluing together these systems, so they can be fast, accurate, and flexible, at scale.
You could go off and read a bunch of books about BPM. There are many excellent tomes. Then figure out how BPM and healthcare fit together. Or just keep reading this Second Edition of BPM in Healthcare.
If you are a healthcare or health IT professional interesting in healthcare workflow and BPM/workflow technology, you could start here:
Aalst, W. Business Process Management: A Comprehensive Survey, ISRN Software Engineering, Volume 2013 (2013), Article ID 507984, 37 pages.
Webster, C. Prepare for a Computer-Based Patient Record That Makes a Difference, Journal of Subacute Care, Vol. 1(3), 12-15, 1995. (http://ehr.bz/subacute1995)
Webster, C. EHR Workflow Management Systems: Essentials, History, Healthcare, TEPR Conference, May 19, 2004, Fort Lauderdale. (http://ehr.bz/tepr2004)
Terminology and Glossary. Winchester (UK): Workflow Management Coalition; 1994 Feb. Document No. WFMC-TC- 1011. BPM in Healthcare (2012) Future Strategies Inc., Lighthouse Point, FL. http://bpm-books.com/products/ebook-series-bpm-in-healthcare
Case Management in Industry 4.0: ACM and IoT – see chapter by Nathaniel Palmer” “http://bpm-books.com/products/best-practices-to-support-knowledge-workers-print”
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