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Intelligent Automation Drives Quantifiable Improvements in Healthcare Operations

Applications of AI in healthcare have received considerable attention as adoption accelerates, with much of it focused on clinically facing AI, such as algorithms that can detect cancer or predict future risk of atrial fibrillation. However, the operational management side of healthcare, such as ICU capacity and operating room utilization, is a key area of the industry where AI can provide unparalleled value across the entire healthcare continuum. 

Healthcare operation systems have historically struggled to operate at the level of efficiency needed in an increasingly complex healthcare environment, with limited insight and foresight needed to make decisions that allow them to operate proactively rather than reactively. At its core, operational AI develops prescriptive actions, workflow management, and streamlined communications that enable health systems to achieve and sustain peak operational performance. Ultimately, these improvements ensure timely access to care for patients and a healthier work environment for caregivers, ensuring that healthcare systems operate at peak performance amid and beyond times of crisis. 

Deep-Rooted Challenges Require a Modern Approach

A hospital’s day-to-day operating environment is constantly fluctuating, which forces hospital leaders and frontline staff to make on-the-fly adjustments and react to immediate challenges. They are unfairly hindered because they lack the necessary time and insight to make more proactive decisions. Many core operational processes are based on tribal knowledge and rely on manual paper processes, outdated data, phone calls, emails, and time-consuming rounding procedures.

In large health systems, breakdowns in communication can have lasting chain-reaction effects, causing operating rooms to be left unused and wasted, recovery rooms to be overbooked and crowded, and patients to experience unnecessarily long stays. 

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While many health system leaders have invested in clinical and operational improvement initiatives, none of these provide a complete picture that equips leaders with the insight they need to make meaningful performance enhancements.

For example, health system leaders often turn to OR governance and performance improvement teams as a common first step to improve operational issues, such as when operating rooms are underutilized. In these scenarios, health system leaders work with clinical teams to identify and fix the challenges at hand. Unfortunately, while health systems do see an initial performance increase in the short term, these improvements are largely temporary; once the initiative ends, operating dynamics change, the performance degrades and eventually reverts to baseline. 

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Today’s health system leaders need a purpose-built system that turns their own data into actionable real-time information, giving frontline staff the hindsight, insight, and foresight needed to anticipate and resolve operational problems before they occur.

AI-based operations management systems aggregate data from hospitals’ existing IT infrastructure (such as the EHR) and external data sources (such as local, county, and statewide public health resources). This data can then be processed through three engines—analytics, forecasting, and optimization – to establish the foundation for predictive insights, prescriptive recommendations, automated workflows, and reports. Together, these functionalities, or intelligent automation, ensure that the right information gets to the right person-hours, days, and weeks before common operational challenges, such as bed availability, discharge delays or staffing shortages, arise. 

With standard operating practices implemented and supported by a robust technology platform, leaders are given back valuable time to better manage their operations, while care teams can focus more of their time attending to patient care-related activities. Staff can rely on prescriptive analytics to guide their decisions and proactively prepare for future events. The combination of more time and better insights improves performance in a sustainable way and priorities are naturally adjusted over time, ultimately resulting in improved patient care and satisfaction.

The Key to Hospitals’ Post-Pandemic Prosperity

COVID-19 exacerbated many of the inefficiencies that existed previously, pushing many hospitals across the country to their breaking points. From a financial perspective, revenue has taken a severe hit due to elective procedures being canceled or largely reduced, while expenses have remained high. Operationally, staff have been furloughed, reassigned, or severely strained by long hours, while processes and best practices have been suspended or rewritten on the fly, and inventory stocks have been decimated as the supply chain has been compromised. Health systems have recognized that their existing capacity and resource management and allocation tools aren’t sufficient.

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The methods of the past are a drain on optimization in the best of times and damaging during times of crisis. 

The goal for every health system now is not just to optimize one hospital or unit, but rather to optimize the entire system. This requires leaders to implement the same operating procedures and create the same efficiencies across every part of the organization – this is what most health systems are striving for today but it’s nearly impossible to do without the right technology. Health systems now realize they need to modernize their approach with smart technology, and intelligent automation will be crucial as hospitals and health systems look to improve upon the challenges exposed by the pandemic while charting a course for a more sustainable and optimized future. 

[To share your insights with us, please write to sghosh@martechseries.com]

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