What does a Chief Nursing Information Officer and a Chief Technology Officer have in common? The strong belief and understanding that clinical and operations are on the two sides of the same coin when it comes to running a hospital, particularly from a technology perspective. In this article, Sarah Hughes (the Chief Nursing Information Officer) and David Paré (the Chief Technology Officer) come together to showcase how hospitals cannot run with clinicians alone and how the use of technology can reconcile the clinical with the operational to improve patient care and workflows within the hospital.
A lot more than you think is happening in a hospital
Hospitals are complex, interconnected webs of people, machines, processes, data and suppliers that work to deliver great health outcomes for patients.
When it comes to the people, however, we mostly hear about the ‘life-saving’ health staff – the doctors and nurses – and not much about those who work just as tirelessly behind the scenes ensuring patient care takes place as smoothly and efficiently as possible.
The reality is most people tend to naively forget hospitals cannot run on clinicians alone. They require various operational staff like porters, orderlies, cleaners, kitchen staff, switchboard operators, security and maintenance engineers (amongst others) to keep the hospital humming and the patients flowing through.
And yet despite the essential role of these staff, hospitals and health departments continue to invest significantly more of their budget in clinical systems and technology than the equally important systems that underpin its operations.
Hospital operations… who and what is it, really? Operational support staff are essential for the day-to-day organisation and running of the hospital. They help in many ways to enable excellence in patient care and ensure staff and patient safety. Without information technology teams and security managers navigating complex control centres, hospitals would lose valuable time in delivering continual operational outcomes.
Below, are some of the ways operational support staff play an important role:
Staff and patient safety
Security managers and their teams ensure staff and patient safety within the hospital environment. They are a major support service to the healthcare organisation often providing strategic direction, management and operational leadership. Responsible for fire management protocols along with knowledge of emergency and protective/security related legislation and governing policies, they are pivotal to the day-to-day running of the hospital. Their keen knowledge of security systems including CCTV, mobile and fixed duress systems and alarms is key to successfully enabling staff and patient safety.
Smooth operations save time
Various operational roles help streamline patient flow and as a result, save time. This means more time can be given back to clinicians and most importantly, to the patient and their families. The use of digital technology is paramount in assisting the entire hospital workforce, to be streamlined and efficient.
Efficient communication enables streamlined workflows
Information systems allow staff to work together to drive hospital efficiency, and in doing so, greatly contribute to reducing overheads and achieving key operational goals. Today, there is a plethora of legacy (e.g. pagers, analogue phones, etc.) and new solutions (e.g. MS Teams, WhatsApp, etc.) that generally do not play well together, which creates communication and collaboration challenges for clinical and operational staff.
So how do we reconcile clinical and operational?
Now that we understand the cleaners, porters or orderlies are as important as doctors and nurses for a hospital to run smoothly, what do we need to do to improve the way hospitals run today? Here, let’s not confuse “skills” with importance. A cleaner may not need a higher education but if the operating room is dirty and full of blood, the highly skilled surgeon cannot operate.
First, we need to acknowledge the fact that operational and clinical staff cannot work without each other. Hospitals must start investing in improving the work of operational staff, that today is largely manual or using standalone systems like facility or building management, catering, nurse call or duress.
The best way to achieve this, is by implementing a hospital operations integration platform that will orchestrate, coordinate and automate the workflows between the clinicians and the operational staff. Such a platform will focus on removing human errors by automating key workflows like mobile duress, nurse call or asset tracking as well as task, incident and alarm management. Only by automating some of these low value operational activities like active monitoring or triggering of events based on sensors, can we truly align the clinical and the operational workflows.
The likes of automatic task-based notifications to staff, can help save time and improve efficiency. This can reduce common situations like orderlies collecting patients, with the nurse, to attend an x-ray only to find out the x-ray is not ready and the patient needs to be returned to the ward.
Additionally, integrating old paging systems and other legacy phones with modern platforms like Microsoft Teams, SMS, email or VoIP can we truly and seamlessly allow clinicians and operational staff to freely communicate with each other to collaborate for the benefit of patients.
Although clinical systems like EMRs are important, they do not cover (for the most part) integration with the operational side of the hospital. For example, real-time update of the patient or key asset location in the EMR is highly beneficial for hospital staff but requires, to be efficient and cost effective, the use of a real-time location system (RTLS) infrastructure with a hospital operations integration platform to gather and exchange the data with the EMR.
Furthermore, with the use of automated notifications, the time lost in this process would be significantly reduced or avoided entirely. In hospitals that are significantly understaffed, and in some cases, barely coping with demand, these wasted minutes add up to wasted hours, days and years of time.
A small investment goes a long way
The investment in a hospital operations platform even with state-of-the-art RTLS infrastructure, is a small fraction of what a hospital spends on clinical systems so this is a no-brainer; what are you waiting for?
Start small but with an open platform that allows the hospital to take advantage of extended operational capabilities so multiple needs can be met in the future with the same platform. Avoid closed ecosystem vendors who force their clients into only buying from their kit bag as it is too expensive and not advantageous for future needs of the hospital.
And finally, remember that an increased focus on improving the work of your hospital operational staff by integrating simple operational and clinical workflows will have a significant impact on your clinicians and patients without breaking your piggy bank. You can thank us later.
Sarah has 22+ years working within healthcare, as a Registered Nurse. She is also an Honorary Adjunct Assistant Professor at Bond University. She is a passionate advocate for Digital technology adoption, Innovation and Change management to better serve staff and the community.
David is a strategic product and technology leader, with over 25+ years experience leading product development and go-to market strategies for global enterprises with a focus on Health IT.