In a Rural New Mexico Clinic, Leveraging IT to Optimize Patient and Activity Flow | Healthcare Informatics Magazine | Health IT | Information Technology Skip to content Skip to navigation

In a Rural New Mexico Clinic, Leveraging IT to Optimize Patient and Activity Flow

April 26, 2017
by Mark Hagland
| Reprints
The Nor-Lea Hospital District in rural southeastern New Mexico faced complex patient flow challenges

The leaders of patient care organizations across the U.S. are leveraging healthcare information technology for a very wide variety of use cases, some of them involving long-term organizational strategy, others addressing far more immediate and urgent needs. Falling into the latter category is how the leaders of the Nor-Lea Hospital District in Lovington, New Mexico, five hours southeast of Albuquerque, have been leveraging RTLS (real-time locating system) technology from the Traverse City, Michigan-based Versus Technology. Beginning in 2010, the Nor-Lea Hospital District’s leaders faced unprecedented population growth in the Lovington area, as natural gas and oil production was soaring, and new residents were flooding into the area, taxing the resources of the district’s 25-bed critical access hospital and its clinic, originally designed for only 10 providers, but whose patient population was soaring.

With patient satisfaction plummeting as the district’s outpatient clinic was being overwhelmed, Nor-Lea leaders turned to Versus’ RTLS technology to help map movement and processes, in order to reengineer patient flow and activity flow, and optimize clinical work processes. Dan Hamilton, Nor-Lea Hospital District’s COO, has been leading the ongoing process optimization work for several years now, helping to lead the reengineering of patient flow and of the physical positioning of rooms and other physical resources in the district’s outpatient clinic. Hamilton spoke recently with Healthcare Informatics Editor-in-Chief Mark Hagland about the clinic flow reengineering project. Below are excerpts from that interview.

In terms of your organization’s outpatient clinic, it was a very small, cramped facility, correct?

Yes. It was a five-provider rural healthcare clinic. We were seeing the volume in patients growing so fast, it was unreal. So we expanded the clinic to eight providers. And that still wasn’t large enough. We were seeing high volumes of patients, with the doctors being booked far in advance. So we were able to put 10 providers into the clinic; and ultimately, we decided to build a new clinic with 20 providers. We already had 14 providers when we moved into the new clinic.

What was the timeframe for the forward evolution of your RTLS-facilitated work on improving patient flow and activity flow in the clinic?


Experience New Records for Speed & Scale: High Performance Genomics & Imaging

Through real use cases and live demo, Frank Lee, PhD, Global Industry Leader for Healthcare & Life Sciences, will illustrate the architecture and solution for high performance data and AI...

The biggest boom was in 2010. The price of oil was going up, so we had new people coming in to work. We were one of the biggest oil producers in the area. Eunice, Howell, Jobs, Lovington and Tatum were growing, and we were the only family practice in Lea County. And it was taking anywhere from 60 to 90 days to see you if you were a new patient. So we knew we had a problem; plus, our patient satisfaction was plummeting.

So we got Versus in in 2012, and for the first time, we were able to effectively track patients in real time. We could track where our problems were; we could track patients’ movement from registration to lobby, lobby to patient room, patient room to provider, provider to discharge. As a result, we were able to look at each step of the process and see where we were falling short and where the wastes were. And even the design of the clinic was dysfunctional because of the shape of the building. So we put our lobby in the leg of the clinic rather than in the middle. And that streamlined the time it took patients into the rooms.

So some of this work involved participating in time-motion studies?

Yes, a lot of it did, but also tracking patient wait times. We were having one to two hour wait times to get people into the rooms, and people were getting miffed. It helped us track patients.

What did you find once you had done data-gathering?

We found that our clinic had very poor layout in terms of patient flow. We also thought we had to run three rooms, but we really were running two rooms with patients sitting in the third room. And it was taking 20-30 minutes to get a patient through registration, so they were becoming late to see the provider and the provider was refusing to see them. So [using the RTLS system to gather motion-based data] allowed us to break things down into patient flow, and we were able to adjust our room-turnover rates; and we also looked at staff, what our staffing ratio was like. We were at the high end in terms of using registered nurses. We had a ton of RNs, but were lower on the other staff positions. We were paying for RNs, but they were doing a lot of administrative work, calling patients back on the phone, calling in medication refills, and why? For every two providers, we had one RN and we took the other one and shifted them to the floor, and replaced them with MAs. So today we staff at the level of one RN for four providers, and the rest MAs. That works better for us; I can hire two MAs for one RN. Meanwhile, in the fall of 2014, we moved into the new clinic. So we started Versus in 2012.

So you spent two years optimizing flow and processes?

Well, before that, I was working without Versus. But it was in 2010 that we were seeing a wave of new arrivals in town, and patient satisfaction was going down. So I read books and became a green belt in Lean and Six Sigma. And it was in 2012 that we decided to engage Versus. Our patient satisfaction scores were in the lowest 2 percent in the nation at that time, and physician satisfaction was terrible, too. And the times were all skewed, and it was very hard to figure out what was going on.

So you needed a very systematic approach to this, essentially.

Yes, that’s right.

So, looking at all this work from a Lean/Six Sigma perspective, what have the biggest lessons been learned so far?

The biggest lesson learned is that you have to have accurate data. Before that, without the data, we did everything in a very reactive way. And we ended up making a lot of changes that actually were making things worse. We were making our registration process worse by focusing on the wrong things. We didn’t have the data to show us. We had an EMR. But people tended to want to hide their mistakes, so they would fudge on the times. So I would focus on other things, and I couldn’t see what was going on. The second thing I learned was that I had to have the staff, the providers, buy into this. I thought I could do this on my own—you think you can change the world—but I couldn’t. I had to have the staff engaged in this, and show them that people were regarding us as mediocre to poor. And I asked them, don’t we all want to be the best? And of course they did.

So on the green belt side, it was having the data that I could pull up every morning, to figure out what to focus on. And if I had a room that wasn’t turning over, it meant that I was bottlenecking. And the staff were shocked at how many hours a day they were wasting in running from one place to another. So staff are now located within steps of supplies. It was two to three hours of waste per day just moving patients from the lobby to  the provider rooms. So it helped us to design clinics, and now we have two new more ones opened, based on what we learned. Versus wasn’t easy to roll out, in that the staff were suspicious and resentful of how it might be used. So I let them roll it out; they came up with the slogans and what was important. I signed the commitment with them that nobody would be punished because of data we found in Versus; so I had things like that in place.

We’re going to have to do more and more in healthcare with less and less. This case study really speaks to process optimization while making use of less-than-full resources, correct?

Yes, and we’re seeing that here today. The price of oil has bottomed out, and so we’re now overstaffed. And so we’re having to look at staffing carefully. We thought we were running pretty lean, but we’ve got to run even leaner now.

So everyone’s going to have to do this kind of work, then, correct?

Correct. Everyone’s going to have to look at processes. And in our new clinic, we’re mapping how long it takes to register. And we have two EMRs, and registration has to register twice, once for the hospital and once for the clinic. And how can we save time in such a situation? And Versus helps you analyze and find the waste in your system.

What would you say to CIOs and CMIOs about this kind of work?

I think the thing that I look at most is simplification. If you rely on people to give you your data, meaning that it can be inaccurate, people will fudge on the data they present. That’s why I liked Versus, because it eliminates the human factor.

So by leveraging information technology, you’re limiting the judgment calls and the subjectivity?

Yes, correct. And also, you can segment the data on the visit and drill down in more detail. I can track from when they walk in the door to when they register, when they go with the nurse, go to the physician, etc. It gives you accurate data. EMRs—the data you get depends on the human factor. And if you want to come up with good processes, you need reliable data; otherwise, you’re being reactive.


The Health IT Summits gather 250+ healthcare leaders in cities across the U.S. to present important new insights, collaborate on ideas, and to have a little fun - Find a Summit Near You!


Have CIOs’ Top Priorities for 2018 Become a Reality?

December 12, 2018
by Rajiv Leventhal, Managing Editor
| Reprints

In comparing healthcare CIOs’ priorities at the end of 2017 to this current moment, new analysis has found that core clinical IT goals have shifted from focusing on EHR (electronic health record) integration to data analytics.

In December 2017, hospitals CIOs said they planned to mostly focus on EHR integration and mobile adoption and physician buy-in, according to a survey then-conducted by Springfield, Va.-based Spok, a clinical communications solutions company, of College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) member CIOs.

The survey from one year ago found that across hospitals, 40 percent of CIO respondents said deploying an enterprise analytics platform is a top priority in 2018. Seventy-one percent of respondents cited integrating with the EHR is a top priority, and 62 percent said physician adoption and buy-in for securing messaging was a top priority in the next 18 months. What’s more, 38 percent said optimizing EHR integration with other hospital systems with a key focus for 2018.

Spok researchers were curious whether their predictions became reality, so they analyzed several industry reports and asked a handful of CIOs to recap their experiences from 2018. The most up-to-date responses revealed that compared to last year when just 40 percent of CIOs said they were deploying an enterprise analytics platform in 2018, harnessing data analytics looks to be a huge priority in 2019: 100 percent of the CIOs reported this as top of mind.

Further comparisons on 2018 predictions to realities included:

  • 62 percent of CIOs predicted 2018 as the year of EHR integration; 75 percent reported they are now integrating patient monitoring data
  • 79 percent said they were selecting and deploying technology primarily for secure messaging; now, 90 percent of hospitals have adopted mobile technology and report that it’s helping improve patient safety and outcomes
  • 54 percent said the top secure messaging challenge was adoption/buy in; now, 51 percent said they now involve clinicians in mobile policy and adoption

What’s more, regarding future predictions, 87 percent of CIOs said they expect to increase spending on cybersecurity in 2019, and in three years from now, 60 percent of respondents expect data to be stored in a hybrid/private cloud.

CIOs also expressed concern regarding big tech companies such as Apple, Amazon and Google disrupting the healthcare market; 70 percent said they were somewhat concerned.

More From Healthcare Informatics


How One Community Hospital is Leveraging AI to Bolster Its Care Pathways Process

December 6, 2018
by Heather Landi, Associate Editor
| Reprints
Click To View Gallery

Managing clinical variation continues to be a significant challenge facing most hospitals and health systems today as unwarranted clinical variation often results in higher costs without improvements to patient experience or outcomes.

Like many other hospitals and health systems, Flagler Hospital, a 335-bed community hospital in St. Augustine, Florida, had a board-level mandate to address its unwarranted clinical variation with the goal of improving outcomes and lowering costs, says Michael Sanders, M.D., Flagler Hospital’s chief medical information officer (CMIO).

“Every hospital has been struggling with this for decades, managing clinical variation,” he says, noting that traditional methods of addressing clinical variation management have been inefficient, as developing care pathways, which involves identifying best practices for high-cost procedures, often takes up to six months or even years to develop and implement. “By the time you finish, it’s out of date,” Sanders says. “There wasn’t a good way of doing this, other than picking your spots periodically, doing analysis and trying to make sense of the data.”

What’s more, available analytics software is incapable of correlating all the variables within the clinical, billing, analytics and electronic health record (EHR) databases, he notes.

Another limitation is that care pathways are vulnerable to the biases of the clinicians involved, Sanders says. “In medicine, what we typically do is we’ll have an idea of what we want to study, design a protocol, and then run the trial and collect the data that we think is important and then we try to disprove or prove our hypothesis,” he says.


Experience New Records for Speed & Scale: High Performance Genomics & Imaging

Through real use cases and live demo, Frank Lee, PhD, Global Industry Leader for Healthcare & Life Sciences, will illustrate the architecture and solution for high performance data and AI...

Sanders says he was intrigued by advances in machine learning tools and artificial intelligence (AI) platforms capable of applying advanced analytics to identify hidden patterns in data.

Working with Palo Alto, Calif.-based machine intelligence software company Ayasdi, Flagler Hospital initiated a pilot project to use Ayasdi’s clinical variation management application to develop care pathways for both acute and non-acute conditions and then measure adherence to those pathways.

Michael Sanders, M.D.

Flagler targeted their treatment protocols for pneumonia as an initial care process model. “We kicked around the idea of doing sepsis first, because it’s a huge problem throughout the country. We decided to use pneumonia first to get our feet wet and figure out how to use the tool correctly,” he says.

The AI tools from Ayasdi revealed new, improved care pathways for pneumonia after analyzing thousands of patient records from the hospital and identifying the commonalities between those with the best outcomes. The application uses unsupervised machine learning and supervised prediction to optimally align the sequence and timing of care with the goal of optimizing for patient outcomes, cost, readmissions, mortality rate, provider adherence, and other variables.

The hospital quickly implemented the new pneumonia pathway by changing the order set in its Allscripts EHR system. As a result, for the pneumonia care path, Flagler Hospital saved $1,350 per patient and reduced the length of stay (LOS) for these patients by two days, on average. What’s more, the hospital reduced readmission by 7 times—the readmission rate dropped from 2.9 percent to 0.4 percent, hospital officials report. The initial work saved nearly $850,000 in unnecessary costs—the costs were trimmed by eliminating labs, X-rays and other processes that did not add value or resulted in a reduction in the lengths of stay or readmissions.

“Those results are pretty amazing,” Sanders says. “It’s taking our data and showing us what we need to pursue. That’s powerful.”

With the success of the pneumonia care pathway, Flagler Hospital leaders also deployed a new sepsis pathway. The hospital has expanded its plans for using Ayasdi to develop new care pathways, from the original plan of tackling 12 conditions over three years, to now tackling one condition per month. Future plans are to tackle heart failure, total hip replacement, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG), hysterectomy and diabetes, among other conditions. Flagler Hospital expects to save at least $20 million from this program in the next three years, according to officials.

Finding the “Goldilocks” group

Strong collaboration between IT and physician teams has been a critical factor in deploying the AI tool and to continue to successfully implement new care pathways, Sanders notes.

The effort to create the first pathway began with the IT staff writing structured query language (SQL) code to extract the necessary data from the hospital’s Allscripts EHR, enterprise data warehouse, surgical, financial and corporate performance systems. This data was brought into the clinical variation management application using the FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources) standard.

“That was a major effort, but some of us had been data scientists before we were physicians, and so we parameterized all these calls. The first pneumonia care path was completed in about nine weeks. We’ve turned around and did a second care path, for sepsis, which is much harder, and we’ve done that in two weeks. We’ve finished sepsis and have moved on to total hip and total knee replacements. We have about 18 or 19 care paths that we’re going to be doing over the next 18 months,” he says.

After being fed data of past pneumonia treatments, the software automatically created cohorts of patients who had similar outcomes accompanied by the treatments they received at particular times and in what sequence. The program also calculated the direct variable costs, average lengths of stay, readmission and mortality rates for each of those cohorts, along with the statistical significance of its conclusions. Each group had different comorbidities, such as diabetes, COPD and heart failure, which was factored into the application's calculations. At the push of a button, the application created a care path based on the treatment given to the patients in each cohort.

The findings were then reviewed with the physician IT group, or what Sanders calls the PIT crew, to select what they refer to as the “Goldilocks” cohort. “This is a group of patients that had the combination of low cost, short length of stay, low readmissions and almost zero mortality rate. We then can publish the care path and then monitor adherence to that care path across our physicians,” Sanders says.

The AI application uncovered relationships and patterns that physicians either would not have identified or would have taken much longer to identify, Sanders says. For instance, the analysis revealed that for patients with pneumonia and COPD, beginning nebulizer treatments early in their hospital stays improved outcomes tremendously, hospital leaders report.

The optimal events, sequence, and timing of care were presented to the physician team using an intuitive interface that allowed them to understand exactly why each step, and the timing of the action, was recommended. Upon approval, the team operationalized the new care path by revising the emergency-department and inpatient order sets in the hospital EHR.

Sanders says having the data generated by the AI software is critical to getting physicians on board with the project. “When we deployed the tool for the pneumonia care pathway, our physicians were saying, ‘Oh no, not another tool’,” Sanders says. “I brought in a PIT Crew (physician IT crew) and we went through our data with them. I had physicians in the group going through the analysis and they saw that the data was real. We went into the EMR to make sure the data was in fact valid, and after they realized that, then they began to look at the outcomes, the length of stay, the drop in readmissions and how the costs dropped, and they were on board right away.”

The majority of Flagler physicians are adhering to the new care path, according to reports generated by the AI software's adherence application. The care paths effectively sourced the best practices from the hospital’s best doctors using the hospital’s own patient groups, and that is key, Sanders notes.

“When we had conversations with physicians about the data, some would say, ‘My patient is sicker than yours,’ or ‘I have a different patient population.’ However, we can drill down to the physician’s patients and show the physician where things are. It’s not based on an ivory tower analysis, it’s based on our own data. And, yes, our patients, and our community, are unique—a little older than most, and we have a lot of Europeans here visiting. We have some challenges, but this tool is taking our data and showing us what we need to pursue. That’s pretty powerful.”

He adds, “It’s been amazing to see physicians rally around this. We just never had the tool before that could do this.”

While Flagler Hospital is a small community hospital with fewer resources than academic medical centers or larger health systems—for example, the hospital doesn’t have a dedicated data scientist but rather uses its in-house informatics staff for this project—the hospital is progressive in its use of advanced analytics, according to Sanders.

“We’ve been able to do a lot of querying ourselves, and we have some sepsis predictive models that we’ve created and put into place. We do a lot of real-time monitoring for sepsis and central line-associated bloodstream infections,” he says. “Central line-associated bloodstream infections are a bane for all hospitals. In the past year and a half, since we’ve put in our predictive model, we’ve had zero bloodstream infections, and that’s just unheard of.”

Sanders and his team plan to continue to use the AI tool to analyze new data and adjust the care paths according to new discoveries. As the algorithms find more effective and efficient ways to deliver care that result in better outcomes, Flagler will continue to improve its care paths and measure the adherence of its providers.

There continues to be growing interest, and also some hype, around AI tools, but Sanders notes that AI and machine learning are simply another tool. “Historically, what we’ve done is that we had an idea of what we wanted to do, conducted a clinical trial and then proved or disproved the hypothesis, based on the data that we collected. We have a tool with AI which can basically show us relationships that we didn’t know even existed and answer questions that we didn’t know to ask. I think it’s going to open up a tremendous pathway in medicine for us to both reduce cost, improve care and really take better care of our patients,” he says, adding, “When you can say that to physicians, they are on board. They respond to the data.”


Related Insights For: Analytics


At RSNA 2018, An Intense Focus on Artificial Intelligence

November 29, 2018
by Mark Hagland, Editor-in-Chief
| Reprints
Artificial intelligence solutions—and discussions—were everywhere at RSNA 2018 this week

Artificial intelligence solutions—and certainly, the promotion of such solutions—were everywhere this year at the RSNA Conference, held this week at Chicago’s vast McCormick Place, where nearly 49,000 attendees attended clinical education sessions, viewed nearly 700 vendor exhibits. And AI and machine learning promotions, and discussions were everywhere.

Scanning the exhibit floor on Monday, Glenn Galloway, CIO of the Center for Diagnostic Imaging, an ambulatory imaging center in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park, Minn., noted that “There’s a lot of focus on AI this year. We’re still trying to figure out exactly what it is; I think a lot of people are doing the same, with AI.” In terms of whether what’s being pitched is authentic solutions, vaporware, or something in between, Galloway said, “I think it’s all that. I think there will be some solutions that live and survive. There are some interesting concepts of how to deliver it. We’ve been talking to a few folks. But the successful solutions are going to be very focused; not just AI for a lung, but for a lung and some very specific diagnoses, for example.” And what will be most useful? According to Galloway, “Two things: AI for the workflow and the quality. And there’ll be some interesting things for what it will do for the quality and the workflow.”

“Certainly, this is another year where machine learning is absolutely dominating the conversation,” said James Whitfill, M.D., CMO at Innovation Care Partners in Scottsdale, Ariz., on Monday. “In radiology, we continue to be aware of how the hype of machine learning is giving way to the reality; that it’s not a wholesale replacement of physicians. There have already been tremendous advances in, for example, interpreting chest x-rays; some of the work that Stanford’s done. They’ve got algorithms that can diagnose 15 different pathological findings. So there is true material advancement taking place.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Whitfill said, “At the same time, people are realizing that coming up with the algorithm is one piece, but that there are surprising complications. So you develop an algorithm on Siemens equipment, but when you to Fuji, the algorithm fails—it no longer reliably identifies pathology, because it turns out you have to train the algorithm not just on examples form just one manufacturer, but form lots of manufacturers. We continue to find that these algorithms are not as consistent as identifying yourself on Facebook, for example. It’s turning out that radiology is way more complex. We take images on lots of different machines. So huge strides are being made,” he said. “But it’s very clear that human and machine learning together will create the breakthroughs. We talk about physician burnout, and even physicians leaving. I think that machine learning offers a good chance of removing a lot of the drudgery in healthcare. If we can automate some processes, then it will free up our time for quality judgment, and also to spend time talking to patients, not just staring at the screen.”


Experience New Records for Speed & Scale: High Performance Genomics & Imaging

Through real use cases and live demo, Frank Lee, PhD, Global Industry Leader for Healthcare & Life Sciences, will illustrate the architecture and solution for high performance data and AI...

Looking at the hype cycle around AI

Of course, inevitably, there was talk around the talk of the hype cycle involving artificial intelligence. One of those engaging in that discussion was Paul Chang, M.D.., a practicing radiologist and medical director of enterprise imaging at the University of Chicago. Dr. Chang gave a presentation on Tuesday about AI. According a report by Michael Walter in Radiology Business, Dr. Chang said, “AI is not new or spooky. It’s been around for decades. So why the hype?” He described computer-aided detection (CAD) as a form of artificial intelligence, one that radiologists have been making use of for years.

Meanwhile, with regard to the new form of AI, and the inevitable hype cycle around emerging technologies, Dr. Chang said during his presentation that “When you’re going up the ride, you get excited. But then right at the top, before you are about to go down, you have that moment of clarity—‘What am I getting myself into?’—and that’s where we are now. We are upon that crest of magical hype and we are about to get the trench of disillusionment.” Still, he told his audience, “It is worth the rollercoaster of hype. But I’m here to tell you that it’s going to take longer than you think.”

So, which artificial intelligence-based solutions will end up going the distance? On a certain level, the answer to that question is simple, said Joe Marion, a principal in the Waukesha, Wis.-based Healthcare Integration Strategies LLC, and one of the imaging informatics industry’s most respected observers. “I think it’s going to be the value of the product,” said Marion, who has participated in 42 RSNA conferences; “and also the extent to which the vendors will make their products flexible in terms of being interfaced with others, so there’s this integration aspect, folding into vendor A, vendor B, vendor C, etc. So for a third party, the more they reach out and create relationships, the more successful they’ll be. A lot of it will come down to clinical value, though. Watson has had problems in that people have said, it’s great, but where’s the clinical value? So the ones that succeed will be the ones that find the most clinical value.”

Still, Marion noted, even the concept of AI, as applied to imaging informatics, remains an area with some areas lacking in clarity. “The reality, he said, “is that I think it means different things to different people. The difference between last year and this year is that some things are coming to fruition; it’s more real. And so some vendors are offering viable solutions. The message I’m hearing from vendors this year is, I have this platform, and if a third party wants to develop an application or I develop an application, or even an academic institution develops a solution, I can run it on my platform. They’re trying to become as vendor-agnostic as possible.”

Marion expressed surprise at the seemingly all-encompassing focus on artificial intelligence this year, given the steady march towards value-based healthcare-driven mandates. “Outside of one vendor, I’m not really seeing a whole lot of emphasis this year on value-based care; that’s disappointing,” Marion said. “I don’t know whether people don’t get it or not about value-based care, but the vendors are clearly more focused on AI right now.”

Might next year prove to be different? Yes, absolutely, especially given the coming mandates coming out of the Protecting Access to Medicare Act (PAMA), which will require referring providers to consult appropriate use criteria (AUC) prior to ordering advanced diagnostic imaging services—CT, MR, nuclear medicine and PET—for Medicare patients. The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will progress with a phased rollout of the CDS mandate, as the American College of Radiology (ACR) explains on its website, with voluntary reporting of the use of AUC taking place until December 2019, and mandatory reporting beginning in January 2020.

But for now, this certainly was the year of the artificial intelligence focus at the RSNA Conference. Only time will tell how that focus plays out in the imaging and imaging informatics vendor space within the coming 12 months, before RSNA 2019 kicks off one year from now, at the conference’s perennial location, McCormick Place.



See more on Analytics

betebet sohbet hattı betebet bahis siteleringsbahis