According to the American College of Healthcare Executives’ 2021 annual survey, personnel shortages were identified as the top concern for hospital CEOs—the first time since 2004 they had outranked financial challenges. Instead of hiring, however, healthcare organizations can forge ahead with straightforward solutions: Reduce workloads and improve staff efficiency through technology and lean principles to work more effectively as an integrated care team.
Automation and Better Data for Care Teams
By automating time-consuming processes such as intake, consent management, payments, and scheduling—and turning those tasks over to patients—medical practices and health systems can alleviate their hiring challenges and boost staff efficiency without adding new employees. This can also help ease employee burnout and increase retention by opening up staff time to concentrate on higher-value tasks, including the patient experience.
Innovative ways to condense data into easy-to-use insights are also emerging to help improve care and reduce burnout. “Technologists and data scientists will continue to improve the ability of algorithms to gather and analyze those avalanches of data, and then generate a wealth of valuable clinical insights,” says Amit Phadnis, Chief Digital Officer at GE Healthcare. “That has the potential to increase the quality of healthcare, allow for the fairer distribution of work, and decrease the risk of burnout.”
According to HealthTech’s trends to watch, more organizations are deploying solutions that facilitate real-time access to patient information and seamless collaboration among care teams. The next step will be refining their features and workflow integrations, especially in ways that align with the unique requirements of specific teams and providers.
Streamlining Workflows for Efficiency
Patient engagement flourishes when technology allows communication to flow like any contemporary ecommerce or digitally enhanced service. Care is brought to the patient by a team who has been organized to the degree that they can focus on why they chose a profession in care: compassion. This is not only beneficial to the patient, but also to the caregiver. The act of caring for others releases the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine from the pleasure center of the brain, which puts the people in a positive emotional state, often called the “helper’s high.”
Organizations that have streamlined care delivery over the last 15 years by implementing lean processes and principles in the care team workflow have benefitted from delivering more and higher quality care, with less staff—and less stress on caregivers.
For years, Bon Secours Medical Group had experienced single-digit physician satisfaction scores, turnover rates above the national average, and low patient scores for ease of scheduling and wait times. Their System Transformation Office worked with consultants to partner with providers and staff to develop an integrated care team model—also known as a flow cell—using lean methodology.
A five-day workshop was conducted at the group’s Palmetto Pulmonary and Critical Care (PP) facility to outline the current state of patient flow, define expected improvements, and redesign processes that would decrease provider burden, increase staff satisfaction, decrease inherent problems, and improve patient throughput—thereby enhancing patient satisfaction. The outcome of the workshop was the creation of an integrated care team model. Pulmonary critical care physician Travis Greer, MD, summarized the purpose of the transformation work: “With this model, the goal was to make the patient the center of each visit, with the various employees coming to them instead of making the patient move from station to station within our office.”
Through ongoing small tests of change via the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle, the PP team developed a succinct workflow that decreased patients’ time spent in the office by 37% through the reduction of waste, primarily in waiting and motion. However, the amount of face-to-face time patients spent with physicians remained unchanged, at 20 minutes, with the implementation of level-loading responsibilities.
The redistribution of work cut provider documentation time in half, allowing providers to complete all tasks at work (eliminating after-hours work). It also enhanced personnel job satisfaction by increasing the sense of importance for all roles and developing employees through ongoing learning. Long-term benefits demonstrated a reduction in wait time for the next available appointment from more than 20 days to less than three days and increased patient satisfaction in scheduling ease.