Room Utilization – Why It’s More Important Now Than Ever

By Rich Miller, Chief Strategy Officer, QGenda
Twitter: @QGenda

The effects of COVID-19 have shed new light on the need for improved room utilization. The industry has seen a rise in potentially life-saving treatments being delayed due to lack of space at hospitals – while in other cases, clinic exam rooms that could be used to see more patients sit empty due to outdated, inconsistent, or disjointed room management methods. With health system capacity impacting everything from emergency cases to routine and elective procedures, best practices in exam room utilization are now more important than ever.

Optimizing exam room use is crucial for helping health systems achieve key goals, including efficiently treating patients, maximizing provider time, and avoiding lost revenue. Automating and digitizing room management across the enterprise allows health systems to stay flexible, productive, and operationally capable of meeting fluctuating needs. To ensure success, it is critical that room management technology be connected with provider schedules. Using up-to-date provider schedule data with room and case information allows organizations to analyze trends to catch irregularities and optimize accordingly. Without incurring additional costs, healthcare organizations can ensure vital capacity metrics move in the right direction.

Patient throughput and access
If room management is not executed in an ideal manner, patients suffer the consequences. Lack of visibility into exam room availability (as well as provider availability) means that critical resources aren’t used effectively, leading to poor coverage and productivity that impede patient access. When fewer patients are seen and treated in a timely manner, suboptimal outcomes can result.

To mitigate these impacts and support better patient access—and ultimately better health outcomes—many healthcare organizations are adopting advanced software solutions to provide the necessary line of sight into relevant utilization trends. Administrators who can predict demand can improve patient throughput without adding costly extra space by increasing exam room use and thus improving coverage and productivity rates. Consequently, they can also prevent long wait times and appointment backlogs so that more patients can be seen for faster attention to essential medical needs.

Increased productivity & efficiency
From a clinical perspective, productivity relies on maximized exam room utilization, adequate provider coverage, and the availability of related resources to drive the best and most efficient patient care. So, in the face of limited capital funds, health system executives must optimize their existing physical space while simultaneously remaining adaptable to fluctuations in patient demand.

This is where superior room management processes make a difference. Automating and digitizing enterprise room management is an approach that keeps room readiness flexible and adjustable. Centralizing information in real time provides a reliable way to keep a pulse not only on available rooms, but also the inventory of room equipment and attributes to ensure appropriate room assignment and enable reallocation when necessary. After all, a room does little good if it lacks the diagnostic or therapeutic resources the provider and patient need.

In addition, especially in light of the effects of COVID-19, capitalizing on room management reporting capabilities can help inform quick adjustments and improve surge response – something nearly every healthcare clinic and facility has experienced in dramatic ways recently. By better managing exam room usage alongside provider schedules, providers can increase patient visits as well as clinic volume even during times of extreme fluctuation, thereby increasing their productivity and patient satisfaction.

Revenue generation
Lastly, it’s important to consider the financial realities of healthcare that can be affected either positively or negatively by room management practices. When exam rooms, among other resources, are not appropriately allocated, revenue and profit margins are impacted. Providers aren’t able to see sufficient patients in the clinic, which reduces the number of surgeries and other follow-on procedures. Further, misdirected resources lead to productivity declines, which is frustrating from an operational standpoint and only worsens revenue and cost management issues.

Automating the room management process allows health systems to uncover the unrealized revenue potential that stems from exam room utilization. They can organically drive increased revenues through improved room management, because they can enable providers and other healthcare personnel to support higher patient volumes. Enterprise-wide management opens up providers’ ability to use facilities to their full potential and not waste resources.

While optimizing room management may seem like a small change in the overall healthcare ecosystem, it can deliver a significant lift to revenues. In one example, an oncology services department in a large health system projected that increasing exam room utilization by 20% would save $200,000 per clinic annually. With 14 clinics in the system, this translates to a total of $2.8 million that could contribute to the bottom line or be invested in revenue-producing activities.

Thus, effective room management is a critical part of the performance of an overall healthcare organization, as each part influences the functioning of the whole. Health systems that do not optimize exam room scheduling will be challenged to meet patient needs and revenue goals as time goes on. With this in mind, forward-thinking healthcare leaders are considering how investments in advanced room management processes and technology, with a direct connection to provider schedules, can position their organizations for current and future success.