How hospitals can use analytics to improve surgical suite performance

Keeping procedures flowing smoothly is important for an organization’s bottom line, as well as providing the best care possible for patients.

The surgical suite is the place where organizations and physicians build their reputations and also where hospitals generate much of the revenue that keeps them in business and supports their entire mission. Without operating rooms, it would be harder to pay for critical but underfunded areas such as chronic care, mental health and public health.

Poor planning and scheduling increase stress and often result in worsen outcomes. For instance, overbooked operating rooms frustrate doctors and nurses and can delay ensuring the patient is in the right level of care in a timely manner post-surgery. Under booked ORs waste resources and cost hospitals money. Everybody wins when surgical suites are managed efficiently and strategically.

Today, advanced analytics platforms are playing new and critical roles in helping hospitals improve their perioperative services, which is essential to improving healthcare.

These analytics technologies enable hospitals and healthcare systems to harness the data they already have to help them better run their perioperative operations. These tools incorporate hospital rules, policies and historical patterns to improve operating room and staff efficiency and drive greater volume.

Driven by clinical needs as well as regulatory requirements, hospitals and medical practices already have plenty of data, and they accrue more every day. A 2014 report from the research firm IDC predicted that by 2020 the volume of healthcare data will have grown to 2,314 exabytes. An exabyte is equal to one billion gigabytes and can hold 100,000 times the printed material contained in the U.S. Library of Congress.

Traditionally, hospitals and medical practices have used manual, labor-intensive methods like spreadsheets, combined with experience and intuition, to make decisions ranging from staffing plans, service line expansion and resource allocation. Such processes are time consuming, expensive, inaccurate and inefficient.

But the information that could help hospitals better utilize their ORs and their surgical staff lies buried within their raw data along with the policies and rules to which they perform. When hospitals fail to analyze and take action on this data, they waste a rich resource they could exploit to better serve their patients, staffs and communities.

Advanced analytics tools have the potential to retrieve, connect and analyze this rich data set to provide insight to perioperative managers and hospital leaders to ensure they have the best surgical day possible. In addition, powerful simulation and what-if analysis capabilities help understand the impact of policy and volume changes on key resources.

Accountability in operating room block utilization is critical to an organization’s ability to optimize throughput, minimize cost and provide the best care. Without accountability, it’s nearly impossible to allocate block time equitably; often, it’s given to those surgeons with the loudest voices rather than those with the most efficient performance.

While accurate, accessible data regarding block and room utilization has been extremely challenging to find; hospitals need to ensure accountability through automation that provides shared, accessible, timely, accurate and “drillable” information. Accountability in perioperative performance empowers a hospital to achieve results that are not only outstanding for patients and staff, but good for the bottom line, too.

For example, analytics help managers better use electronic block scheduling methods. Departments and practices can independently manage their block schedules with less direct communication and coordination; hospitals can determine the best times to schedule elective surgeries; and surgeons and practices can identify their best opportunities for safely and efficiently taking on new patients and new cases.

Analytics also can help surgeons better understand their own performance as it relates to their peers and assist them in identifying ways to improvie it. Specifically, perioperative data can be analyzed to reveal such key metrics as block utilization, case length accuracy and first case on-time starts. These tools also can implement automated workflows to remind surgeons of upcoming cases to help them better plan their day and coordinate with OR managers to support the efficient turnover of operating rooms and surgical teams, and the movement of patients between pre-op, surgery and recovery.

One large East Coast hospital system that implemented such a system saw an increase in its surgical volume by 2.7 percent and an increase in its OR utilization from 80 to 85 percent, resulting in a bottom-line impact of several million dollars.

Advanced perioperative analytics also help hospitals and healthcare systems develop and implement the best staffing plan based on their rules, policies and surgical demand. These plans not only have direct bottom-line impact but also improve quality of care as well as patient and staff satisfaction. The ability to use sophisticated algorithms can not only automate what traditionally is an extremely time-consuming and thankless job, but also improve overall cost structure, staff satisfaction and patient outcomes.

Beyond the day-to-day demands of running a surgical suite, the right tools also can mine hospital data to help hospital leaders plan, both for the next month and for the long term. They can analyze existing scenarios and help managers understand the impact of changes in surgical demand, surgeon or block allocation, bed capacity limitations, policy and labor rule changes and length of stay. The hospital can serve more patients more efficiently by better managing cost and improving staff satisfaction benefiting the entire community.

For example, by effectively leveraging data analytics, one Midwest hospital decided to merge two surgical facilities for a savings of more than $4 million.

The data stored on hospital computer systems has enormous potential to improve patient outcomes, save money and make hospitals better places to work, but only if it is used effectively. It’s long past time for hospitals to capitalize on one of their most valuable resources to improve healthcare for everyone.

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