The explosion of innovations in the healthcare field is set to transform medicine in the coming years – from advanced sensors and analytical tools to cancer nanotherapy and genome editing and beyond. Though groundbreaking developments seem to be making most of the headlines, there’s one area in healthcare in which even incremental improvements can significantly impact patient outcomes: efficiency.
Increasing efficiency – including waiting times and patient flow – enhances patient satisfaction, enables providers to increase the volume of care, and ultimately, improves patient outcomes. As providers seek to ready healthcare systems for unprecedented demand amid a graying global population, bolstering efficiencies that improve turnaround time will generate vital gains in productivity, reduce costs, and improve treatment success.
The Need for Speed
In virtually every domain of medicine, efficiency is paramount in optimizing outcomes. The timeliness and cost-effectiveness of services shape the patient experience and outcomes in 95 percent of clinical cases. Radiology – our domain – serves as an illustrative case study. From the moment a patient is admitted to the hospital, several crucial milestones take place: scans are ordered, executed, transcribed and reported – only then can treatment begin. The American Joint Commission tasked with defining safety goals in medicine underlined the critical importance of efficiency in the field, suggesting that “timely reporting of critical findings” in radiology alone could mean timelier clinical interventions and improved outcomes overall.
Whether it’s a patient experiencing a cardiac episode, a potential stroke, or other emergency situations, the fewer seconds to treatment, the better. Studies demonstrate that increased efficiency leads to shortened waiting times and an improvement in patient satisfaction and recovery in emergency departments. After addressing bottlenecks that reduced turnaround, the Cambridge Hospital Emergency Department saw a 35 percent reduction in mean length of patients’ stays, a rise of 11 percent in patients treated, a surge in patient satisfaction, and improved compliance with core quality measures.
In fact, research finds that a decrease in patient waiting time improves patient outcomes for a wide range of conditions, including melanoma, breast, colorectal, head-and-neck, and testicular cancers. In acute and chronic cases alike, the timely, efficient delivery of proper care can make the difference between a successful outcome and complications.
Putting a Price on Time
Costs are also significantly affected by increasing efficiency. Automating its capacity management process, the Methodist Health System of San Antonio saved $150 million over a 2.5-year period. Rush University Medical Center opted to automate its processes for patient placements and transfers, resulting in $40 million in savings. The Cleveland Clinic, meanwhile, found that it’s patient flow had generated enough efficiency and productivity gains to eschew a planned multimillion-dollar expansion of its operating suites.
As these types of solutions are scaled, savings in time and money that accrue will allow providers to focus on what they do best: caring for patients.
The Technology Driving the Next Generation of Care
So what’s the secret to reducing waiting time? While there’s no technological silver bullet, providers have a wide array of tools at their disposal for incremental but meaningful improvements. Returning to our field, radiology, in this study, researchers found that radiological workflow improvements that stemmed from Artificial Intelligence-based prioritization of the most urgent cases led to substantial declines in turnaround time for head CTs in particular, and all cases with images flagged as critical. Given the mounting workflows in radiology, the field can serve as a testing ground for technologies that increase efficiency – and the results are encouraging.
Healthcare providers which implement solutions expediting patient care and bolstering efficiency will find that they are better equipped to handle the inevitable strains facing today’s healthcare institutions, which range from ballooning costs to overcrowding, and the high-demand healthcare landscape of the future in which patients will increase exponentially and the availability of skilled medical professionals will diminish. The success won’t only be theirs: for patients, driving down turnaround time can make all the difference.
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