Consultants as Business Partners: Cost Consciousness and the Bigger Picture

Christopher Wentland

Author:  Christopher J. Wentland, Consultant

In the first two installments of our “Consultants as Business Partners” blog series, we touched on various aspects of building partnerships with clients in our roles as health IT consultants. From sending the right message in initial encounters to identifying internal allies once you are part of the team, interpersonal dynamics between you and your client can make or break an implementation. As an experienced consultant, two of the greatest assets you bring to a new organization are your understanding of costs and the implications of long-term plans on your project. This blog, the final in our series, highlights how these critical elements factor into your team’s success.

Cost Consciousness

In the transition to value-based care, every provider site is taking a good hard look at their financial standing. As members of the IT team, we reside in a department that doesn’t generate revenue in a traditional sense. Instead, our focus is on reducing waste to streamline processes, improve outcomes and lower costs. Effective HIT consultants must possess a keen ability to quantify cost savings to demonstrate return on investment for clients. Key considerations include:

Budgetary Planning: Identify aspects of the budgetary planning process that the client might otherwise overlook. Leave no stone unturned as you weigh project roll-out costs against operational savings potential.

Time as Money: Resource hours pose the biggest financial aspect of HIT projects. Some consultants forget that full-time employees are a dollar-per-hour budget item. Translating the fiscal benefit of FTE time saved is crucial.

Cost Effectiveness Analysis: Clearly articulate savings opportunities to clients. Show a comparison of current costs versus potential savings through process improvement.

Understanding the Big Picture

As an HIT consultant, one of your key roles is using your work experience to anticipate the many moving parts that could shape an implementation. Beyond educating clients on planning and budgeting, your guidance also entails making every effort to understand the organization’s long-term goals and any separate initiatives that may impact or be impacted by your project. This includes:

  • Pending merger or acquisition plans
  • Facility or departmental consolidation plans
  • Scheduled updates that may address current problems

Your understanding of pending organizational changes influences project prioritization. For example, let’s say you have a client that would like to improve after-visit summary documentation. Would you recommend dedicating 10 to 20 resource hours to that project knowing that you’ll be replacing or updating that software within the next six months? As the consultant, part of your job involves helping clients fast-track initiatives that directly affect patient safety and deprioritizing projects with future solutions already slated.

Approach resource allocation based on knowledge of structural and departmental changes. If facility expansion is anticipated, is your implementation plan transition friendly? Are you allocating resources to department personnel who will be migrating? A thorough understanding of client-site plans and objectives is invaluable during the entire engagement—from planning through execution. Due diligence in engaging stakeholders throughout the organization to understand its many moving parts can mitigate friction as you work through the project.

Lasting Impact

Whether your consulting contract is for one month or one year, proceed as if you were a full-time employee of that organization. Own your project in its entirety. Don’t pass the buck to the next consultants or the FTEs who will remain after you leave. As a consultant, make sure the work you’ve initiated can be completed and maintained after your departure. Your ability to meet that end will have a lasting effect on the healthcare organization you were hired to help and your professional reputation moving forward.