“The Whole Ethos of Workflow Is Power and Simplicity”: Mosquito In a Nudist Colony

This week’s #HITsm tweetchat about Simplifying Healthcare prompted this post about workflow, power, and simplicity.

From a user’s perspective, the simplest workflow or workflow system is one she or he does not have to initiate or engage, have knowledge of, or worry about task failure coming back to haunt her or him. The most powerful workflow system is one that provides the tools accomplish whatever the user needs accomplish.

The trick is to make the simple easy and the hard possible. This is what is missing in most current health IT systems today, especially EHRs. Workflow systems, AKA workflow management and Business Process Management (BPM) systems (and related process-aware technologies) provide both power and simplicity. Users can design workflows to do whatever they need accomplished (without having to themselves be programmers). And then these user-created workflows can be triggered automatically, without user input or knowledge or operation, with the confidence that if some workflow task fails, it will be escalated and dealt with.

By the way, the title of this post comes from Workflows for e-Science: Scientific Workflow for Grids. Here is the complete quote.

“The whole ethos of workflows is power and simplicity. Workflow systems must be capable of performing all the functions a user requires: otherwise users just won’t use them. But the same system should be simple to use, hiding complexity where appropriate.”

When it comes to simplifying healthcare workflow, we workflowistas are, as a colleague used to colorfully say, like mosquitos at a nudist colony, in a target-rich environment. Over the past five years, workflow technology has increasingly diffused into healthcare. But one particularly resistant area has been the EHR. Most EHR functionality and workflow was dictated and then pinned by Meaningful Use. The pent-up need for the sterling qualities of workflow tech — automaticity, transparency, flexibility, and improbability — may be met through the “API-ization” of EHR data, possibly through FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources). See my post suggesting FHIR tackle clinical task status.

Responsibility for managing workflow will be removed from EHRs. Healthcare tasks and workflows will be managed by external process-aware technology, as I predicted last year in my 7000-word, five-part series, Achieving Task and Workflow Interoperability in Healthcare.

Here are this week’s #HITsm topics (see you there!):

  • Topic 1: What areas of healthcare are ripe for simplification? #HITsm
  • Topic 2: How can we shift thinking to deliver simpler solutions for prevention, screening & treatment? #HITsm
  • Topic 3: How can we improve communication channels with patients? #HITsm
  • Topic 4: How do we engage #payers in the value of preventive care? #HITsm
  • Topic 5: What is one thing you can do to simplify care for yourself or your family members? #HITsm

@wareFLO On Periscope!


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