Hospitals costs account for a third of the nation’s annual healthcare spending, about $1.2 trillion per year. On a per-capita basis, the U.S. spends more on hospital services than many developed countries spend on healthcare overall. The problem is that inefficiencies in the system contribute to that spend and impose obstacles to creating an optimized and cost-effective healthcare delivery process, including overcrowding in hospitals.
There can be many indicators that hospitals aren’t functioning as efficiently as they should, including long wait times, lack of equipment or supplies, repeat visits, under- or overstaffing, misdiagnoses or ineffective treatment, and more.
Technology-based solutions, though, are available today that can help address some of these challenges – many of them have shown significant promise in helping overcome unexpected challenges this year. But, while connected health leverages technology, it really isn’t about technology. It’s about using technology to change the healthcare delivery ecosystem and optimize resource utilization, drive positive outcomes for patients, and reduce costs and the burden on providers.
The healthcare system generates massive amounts of data about patients, conditions, and treatments, which can be used by AI to analyze individual patient conditions. Individual patient data can be compared to aggregate data sets to deliver faster, and sometimes more accurate diagnoses, along with appropriate treatment recommendations. With the volume of data generated by patients and providers, the data pools that can be leveraged by AI to quickly return accurate diagnoses can save time for patients and providers, and optimized treatment plans that can result in better outcomes.
Immediate consultation via telehealth can help to determine whether a hospital visit is required, or if other means of treatment can help solve the problem. This can help reduce the number of inbound patients in hospitals and cut down the administrative work related to intake and discharge. Similarly, virtual visits can be used for many follow-ups, benefitting both hospitals and patients, who don’t have to make additional trips to providers.
Asset and Inventory Management
Hospitals have a broad range of equipment that moves around facilities. Digital asset tagging and tracking can save time for staff when looking for wheelchairs, scales, or other equipment. Digital supply management can also help staff know what supplies are available and which need to be re-ordered. Automated ordering or messages to appropriate staff can ensure appropriate supplies are always available and locatable and can reduce costs resulting from unnecessary over-ordering. Digital inventory management can also help hospitals better understand how their supplies and equipment are being used, to reduce added costs due to misuse or misplacement.
Remote Patient Monitoring solutions can be used to reduce the burden on staff to repeatedly take and record patient readings. Patients can be connected to a variety of devices and sensors to continuously monitor their vitals, record them in their patient records, and alert staff when thresholds are exceeded for rapid intervention. In addition, if patient demand increases unexpectedly, or if specific specialists or primary care providers are needed for consultations, telehealth solutions can allow hospital staff and physicians to easily collaborate with external experts to provide timely support.
Remote patient monitoring tools can also extend to post-discharge environments, provide ongoing data to providers without requiring repeated visits to hospitals or other providers. This can help increase the availability of resources for other patients, reduce travel and scheduling burdens on patients, and reduces administrative workloads for hospital staff. At the same time, patients have the confidence they are receiving the care they need. Virtual visits can supplement remote patient monitoring solutions for regular consultations and follow-ups, or for ad-hoc care if concerns arise.
Connected health solutions can help high-risk patients from having to make repeated hospital visits without reducing their level of care. Connected health not only helps keep those patients from being placed in potentially dangerous situations, but it also frees up space and other resources in hospitals for other patients and reduces overcrowding. The same applies to patients who have difficulty getting to hospitals, whether due to transportation or physical limitations.
Giving patients the ability to enter their information digitally can help reduce administrative burden and time – especially if patients are able to provide their information in advance. Integrated Electronic Health Records make it easier for physicians to access patient information during visits, and to share that information with colleagues when additional insight or second opinions are needed. Having all pertinent information in a single, accessible system can reduce the time spent looking for data, allowing physicians to spend more time treating patients and reducing physician stress and frustration.
Patient Intake and Discharge
Automated procedures can speed the admissions and discharge processes at hospitals and reduce manual administrative efforts for staff. From digitally collected patient data to automated billing to scheduled reminders following discharge, connected health can increase efficiency, help patients follow their treatment plans, and increase billing efficiency and accuracy. For hospital staff, automated checklists and reminders can help increase the efficiency of both patient treatment in hospitals, as well as post-discharge procedures. They can also help ensure steps aren’t missed that could result in additional complications.
Artificial intelligence can help adjust staffing as demands change, reducing both over-and under-staffing and improving cost ratios. In addition, the optimal distribution of scheduled procedures can help maximize resources during peak times. Better staffing and scheduling based on data can enable hospitals to more effectively manage patient flows, reduce wait times, and increase overall operational efficiency, as well as equipping them to handle an unexpected influx of emergency patients that exceeds normal trends.
There may be many sources of inefficiency within hospital systems, and it’s possible that not all of them can be relieved at once. But, by implementing strategically developed connected health strategies, hospitals can begin to optimize their operations to reduce costs, manage patient flows better, and deliver the best possible care.