Struggles with capacity management have been common in hospitals for so long that it sometimes feels baked into the system. Unclear discharge priorities, misaligned staffing, unexpected barriers, siloed information, lapses in communication, and a lack of real-time visibility all lead to delays in and reduced access to patient care. Compounding the issue is the fact that staffing shortages, already a concern before COVID-19, will now be a significant problem in healthcare for the next decade or more.
Healthcare leaders have often attempted to address capacity and throughput challenges with project-based initiatives, whether homegrown or in coordination with consulting teams. But these initiatives often can’t deliver sustainable results because they mostly create new processes and communication channels, and additional steps and tasks are the last thing an already overworked staff needs. These initiatives would usually see a short burst of success before unnecessary or ineffective processes are discarded and performance eventually reverts to the norm.
Keep in mind, this was prior to COVID-19. Problems around capacity management haven’t changed due to COVID, they’ve just become more acute with more severe effects when things go wrong. In extreme circumstances, hospitals are already being forced to close beds due to a lack of staff, creating further complexity for those trying to manage bed capacity. Healthcare leaders have realized that this is a systemic issue and they need to figure out the way forward. Unfortunately, most organizations continue to rely on intuition and paper processes, even though advanced technologies are already creating scalable real-time processes across the country.
The Role and Value of Intelligent Automation
The introduction of intelligent automation is giving organizations an opportunity to standardize operating procedures, save much needed time, and make better decisions. These systems are also revealing that struggles with capacity management often aren’t just process issues. In fact, the right processes are usually already in place. Instead, they are time, communication, and information issues. Previously, nurses had been forced to make real-time decisions based on the data they had at hand, but that data was out of date by the time they even received it. And chasing down or overlooking vital patient and staff information, which costs valuable time, is the source of most capacity management issues.
With technology that provides proactive recommendations and critical, real-time information – from accurate forecasts of patient census, identifying the units that are most likely to be impacted by both physical and staff capacity challenges, and identifying patients that should be prioritized for discharge – a hospital’s existing capacity management processes can reach their full potential. Additionally, replacing manual workflows and tasks with ones that have been streamlined and automated gives hours and hours back to staff and leaders each week. Time that can now be redirected into critical patient care needs.
This pandemic has created an inflection point for the healthcare industry. The prospect of managing increasing patient demands with a shrinking workforce can be daunting for any healthcare leader. However, within this crisis lies an opportunity to cast aside the older, standard methods that couldn’t deliver sustainable results in favor of a modern approach that will dramatically improve efficiency and productivity, allowing more to be done with fewer people.
AI-driven operations management platforms, considered by many healthcare leaders as a nice to have up to this point, have truly become a must-have and will continue to be a priority moving forward.