Taking Data-Driven Action to Optimize Hospital Capacity

editor May 13, 2022
Updated 2022/06/09 at 1:55 AM

Two years into a once-in-a-century pandemic, hospitals and their staff are far beyond their breaking points. Now, amid the sudden emergence of a new COVID variant, Omicron, the consistent strain on the healthcare system has emphasized the urgency to adopt new ways of thinking and innovative technologies to overcome current and future challenges. Continuing with the status quo is no longer a feasible option.

One crucial area that has historically challenged hospitals, further exacerbated by COVID, is the flow of patients from the point of admission to discharge.

Poor management of hospital capacity and patient flow creates discharge delays and bottlenecks that frustrate patients and practitioners alike, diminish the quality of care, waste medical resources, and also cost hospitals money. In the context of COVID, the implications of patient flow challenges have been amplified, contributing to a lack of available beds, constrained ICU capacity, and staff burnout. 

Fortunately, improving operations-related issues, like patient flow, is achievable through workflow automation and predictive insights. Next-level operational management systems are readily available to hospitals and health systems of all sizes to address these challenges. Real-time and predictive insights deliver additional value by providing precise recommendations and actions to proactively resolve issues. 

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Understanding the Challenge in Handling Hospital Capacity

Patient flow is one of the most complex operational conundrums that hospital leaders face daily.

Disparate systems, poor information sharing and inefficient communication between staff are just a few factors that make efficiently managing patient flow nearly impossible. Getting the right information to the right people at the right time is critical to prioritizing, processing, and streamlining patient discharges, a major factor in optimizing patient flow and hospital capacity.

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The key challenge is the inability of traditional tools to proactively match hospitals’ staffing and capacity to anticipated patient demand. Hospitals have traditionally relied on separate IT systems to support such critical daily functions as bed, case, and operating room management and department staffing. While effective in managing unit-specific issues, these kinds of point solutions leave leadership without a shared, singular view into enterprise-wide operations and lack the cross-department interconnectedness needed to make timely and appropriate operational decisions.

Most hospitals and health systems have spent years attempting unit, level-of-care, and even hospital-wide projects to ensure timely discharges and safe transition from inpatient care to either home or a post-acute care setting. These initiatives have often engaged the right people and developed viable processes but have lacked timely and actionable data to sustain improvements for the long term. 

Furthermore, newly adopted best practices, workflows, and performance initiatives continue to rely on time-consuming manual methods of data collection and disconnected processes. Rather than making the workday easier, these new processes add additional tasks and documentation requirements to frontline teams, increasing their workload and taking them away from delivering patient care. While these improvement initiative projects may initially produce promising results, they are often viewed by frontline teams as not truly understanding their real-world stress, workload, and workflow. Without the right unification of people, process, and technology, attention shifts to other priorities, workarounds develop, and staff ultimately revert to the old ways of doing things.

Taking Data-Driven Action 

For sustainable change to become a reality, hospitals must commit to replacing outdated, manual processes with system-wide digital transformation that meaningfully aids workflows and delivers cross-functional transparency and collaboration. Workflow automation and streamlined communication help to deliver a platform that provides wide-ranging past, present, and future enterprise-wide insight – serving as the source of truth for hospital operations. 

To accomplish this, leaders and frontline teams need to be made aware of current and potential operational bottlenecks through actionable notifications and recommendations. A more connected and intelligent approach helps to align teams on daily priorities and proactively resolve issues in a way that manual processes simply cannot achieve.

For example, hospital teams can receive notifications letting them know of a predicted surge event relating to capacity constraints around beds, patients, or staff. With this proactive notification, teams can get ahead of issues by assessing downgrades, discharges, float assignments, and other resource allocation. These notifications can be targeted at different multi-disciplinary teams to align on priorities and actions needed across your hospital.

Driving Effective Hospital Operations

During normal times, moving through the “last mile” of care to resolve barriers and safely discharge a patient is an intricate dance between physicians, nurses, and care managers. Now, more than ever, effective patient flow, capacity, and discharge management are vital to keeping hospitals running smoothly and safely, and tools that enable streamlined workflows and proactive issue resolution can deliver on that promise now and in the future.

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