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At Boston Medical Center, Using Analytics to Improve OR Efficiencies

March 24, 2016
by Rajiv Leventhal
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In a new healthcare world in which hospitals are facing increasing pressures to cut costs and improve operational efficiencies, Boston Medical Center (BMC), a 496-bed academic medical center, has tapped into a new technology platform that now enables the organization to develop and measure key operational metrics to improve hospital processes.

Indeed, BMC recently selected the Newton, Mass.-based Hospital IQ's healthcare operations platform to improve their efficiencies. Certainly, hospitals are generating immense amounts of data but they haven’t had any analytics solutions to make sense of it. To this end, the cloud-based platform, implemented at BMC last fall, is being used to optimize surgical schedules, inpatient and operating room capacity, wait times, length of stay and discharge processes.

Using Hospital IQ, BMC can more easily and rapidly develop and measure key operational metrics to inform their ongoing operational improvements as well as their 2017 initiative to consolidate two buildings. In addition, using the vendor’s what-if engine, BMC can adjust its block schedule to optimize both the perioperative theater and post-surgical units in the hospital, according to hospital officials.

Specifically to the surgical planning module, Yi-An Huang, director of procedural operations at BMC, notes that ORs that are one of the most expensive resources in the hospital to run, and they are shared across all of an organization’s different surgical services. “So you have this super extensive shared resource and your goal is to allocate the OR time as efficiently as possible since it is really expensive, and you also want patients to be able to have access to surgery,” he says. “If a patient comes in and has cancer, for instance, ideally you want to get that patient surgery within a week or two. What makes it complicated is you have different surgeons with different booking times. Some of them book out three or four months because they are elective cases in which patients can wait, while other patients need to go in right away.”

Yi-An Huang

Indeed, the way OR time gets organized and coordinated can quickly become a very complicated analytic exercise, Huang continues. “In the past, we had high-level automated reporting, but it wasn’t granular enough to drive decisions. You might know whether a surgical service was used, but not whether an individual surgeon was using [his or her] time, and that made it hard to make decisions. I would be doing a lot of this analysis out of raw data in Excel, and that was very inefficient. We needed a more powerful tool,” he says.

Now, with Hospital IQ, BMC is able to get automated reporting and significantly more granularity where its operational leaders can see which specific days physicians have been assigned OR time for, and see if they have used that time or not, Huang notes. “We can also can look forward based on scheduled cases. We can see in a quick way whether or not future time in the OR is getting booked, and if not we can find out why,” he says. The results at BMC so far have come from being able to generate automated analytics, resulting in little to no lag time for reporting, as well as the ability to make more decisions quicker, Huang says. “If there is a block change that we need to make, and we are reallocating time between surgeons, we don’t have to pull data and re-pull data,” he says.

Huang believes that BMC is just scratching the surface of this tool and that there is much more power in it that can be unlocked. “The old world involved static monthly reports at a high level, too high a level to make decisions. You would be able to know that something is wrong but not know how to fix it,” he says. “What we are getting to is a world where you can see the data live so day-by-day you know what you are doing and what the schedule looks like going forward, and then make real time adjustments.”

Huang says that these reports are not once a month anymore; he is hoping to get to a place where the larger services are looking at the product every week and seeing how they are doing. “Are there times that are not being used? Are there cases that need to get into the OR? And then you can make adjustments [based on the data]. I see time that goes unused, bits of time, not a lot, but it happens and it adds up to quite a bit of inefficiency. So I believe that we can be using this resource better.”

Huang adds that for both doctors and patients, the benefits are being reaped. “Ultimately, physicians love data and surgeons want to be able to get into the OR. If you think about the key pain points for surgeons, OR access will always [rank] in the top three. So the better we can get at that, the happier our surgeons will be,” he says. And for patients, Huang says that the ability to find OR time essentially reduces the time it takes for patients to get into the operating room. “So if you receive a diagnosis, you will have more options for when to get surgery,” he says.

Huang adds that broadly speaking, one of the biggest challenges for the technology world in helping out in healthcare is identifying what the real pain points are. “While analytics providers will want to sell you a platform or tools, the real need is to identify problems and then figure out what we need to solve those problems,” he says. “IT companies will say that they will aggregate all of this data and then you can play with it, but the truth is that analytics platforms need to be tailored to the problems they are trying to solve.” Rich Krueger, CEO of Hospital IQ, agrees, adding that the right way for an analytics company to operate is to build a bridge where people could move the lanes, stoplights, and stop signs around to however they want to personalize it for them, rather than giving people LEGO blocks and telling them to go figure it out. Huang notes, “It doesn’t help a ton to take a bunch of data and dump it together and then be able to swim into it.”

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