What's Possible for Support Services in Hospital Management
By Todd Stewart
Within a hospital, different departments are responsible for providing the levels of service that make a hospital run – from environmental services, equipment distribution and linens to biomed/clinical engineering, facilities and many others.
All these support services are necessary to keep the hospital going, so that hospital staff can provide care and patients can receive treatment. These support services also have an opportunity to drive operational improvement.
Often, departmental directors in support services must deal with the pressure to “do more with less”. They may need to cut their operating expenses by 10% or reduce headcount. These departments need the ability to increase the efficiency and utilization of staff to meet the workload (because the workload is never going away).
At a high level, you can look at a health system as three pieces of a pie: Clinical, Finance and Operations.
The clinical piece of the pie focuses almost exclusively on patient care and the use of clinical documentation systems such as EPIC and Cerner.
The financial piece includes billing, accounts receivable, accounts payable and purchasing/supply chain/materials management – all important aspects of managing the financial health and prosperity of a hospital.
Then there’s the operational slice which is comprised of a wide variety of support services, including biomedical engineering, facilities engineering, equipment distribution, environmental services, linens, dietary, courier service, security, IT, and others.
Typically, these departments operate independently. Many times, each department relies on their own software systems to manage workflow, which often becomes confusing to end-customers as to which “system” to use for request creation. From a departmental perspective, they need to operate independently.
But from an end-user/customer support perspective, these silos become problematic, making it difficult for hospitals to meet the needs of the staff and the patients alike.
High efficiency in hospital operations is all about the elimination of departmental silos. Traditionally, because there are so many silos in the operational wedge of the pie, there’s a need to streamline and standardize how these support service requests are captured and routed to the people who need to get the work done. What systems can be put in place to make your hospital as efficient as possible for patients and hospital staff?
Imagine you’re a new nurse at a big hospital. Three weeks into your role, you’ve finished new hire orientation, and you’re ready to get to work. You sit down at your desk, but the room is freezing cold. What do you do? The next day, you need a specialty piece of mobile medical equipment to provide care for a patient. What do you do? Then the next day, after a patient’s assessment, you’re asked to administer medication via an IV pump. But you know that the last time you needed an IV pump, it took three hours to get it. What do you do?
Depending on the need, hospital staff typically use multiple endpoints to submit a request for support services:
- visit one of many web portals
- send an email
- make a phone call to a dispatch center
- walk to another department
These multiple methods result in inefficiencies and leave much room for improvement. There is a better, easier, more scalable way for a member of your hospital staff to send a request for support services.
Across the health system, any number of support services departments and their end-customers (the rest of the hospital staff) can benefit from handling different types of support service requests through a single portal. Regardless of the support need, requests can be distributed and delivered through Accruent’s portal to the appropriate group to be fulfilled. It's a seamless workflow orchestration.
Given all the internal and external pressures that hospitals feel – with reimbursements, Medicare/Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act – hospitals need to provide a high level of service at the lowest possible price point.
Operationally, the big challenge in hospitals is continuing to meet patient needs and ensuring patient satisfaction while dealing with staff reductions. Without driving efficiency, it becomes difficult for departments to meet the never-ending demands of upholding service levels, which makes for happier staff who provide care to happier patients who give higher survey scores, which leads to stronger reimbursements from Medicare and Medicaid.
Over time, the streamlining and standardization of support requests increases operational efficiency gains in terms of staff utilization and staff efficiency. If you can give time back to your staff, they can do more, which drives up efficiency and drives down costs.
About the Author
For more than 20 years, Todd Stewart has assisted health systems to achieve continuous process improvement and operational excellence by spending time in hospital settings, on nursing floors, and in operational departments. As Vice President Enterprise Workflow Solutions at Accruent, Todd works with customers to map out short- and long-term goals for sustainable results across a wide variety of healthcare environments, identify gaps and inefficiencies in business processes, and prescribe sustainable solutions to achieve operational excellence. Todd leverages LEAN thinking and new/existing technologies to improve workflow processes and to positively impact operational effectiveness, patient/staff satisfaction, and safety and efficiency across the continuum of care delivery. Todd’s specialties include passive RFID, real-time locating systems (RTLS), and transformational change management in healthcare.