Medtronic team uses data and analytics to reduce wait times at hospitals
June 30, 2020
Winston Churchill famously said we should never waste a good crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic may have imposed massive short-term changes on Canada’s healthcare system, but the silver lining may be that the pandemic could also help expedite the adoption of new tools and processes that will allow for long-term, sustainable improvements benefitting patients, healthcare providers, and the healthcare system.
Prior to the emergence of the COVID-19 virus in Canada, hospitals already operated in a complex, high-pressure environment. They strived to provide the best care possible to a growing number of patients while dealing with strained resources, crowded hallways, and lengthy wait times for procedures.
The road ahead is only going to get more challenging. Hospitals will need to determine how to effectively resume services that were paused during early stages of the pandemic – such as elective surgical procedures – while navigating new safety protocols and infection control measures that are further straining capacity and staffing, and increasing wait times.
Hospitals will also need to adapt to new expectations from patients who have been exposed to the convenience of virtual care and may be anxious about staying in a waiting area for too long.
Several hospitals across Canada have already risen to the challenge. For example, Fraser Health in British Columbia is now doing pre-admissions assessments virtually for surgical patients. In Ontario, virtual care is being used for over 50 percent of patients at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre. And in New Brunswick, Vitalité Health Network has set-up a drive-thru pacemaker clinic to address a growing backlog of patients waiting to have their cardiac devices checked.
“The new hospital environment will be significantly more complex than what it was before the pandemic and it was already extremely complex,” says Gene Macdonald, director of Integrated Health Solutions (IHS) at Medtronic. “Life post-COVID-19 isn’t about returning to normal in healthcare. It’s about helping hospitals regain control of their caseloads, while accounting for new expectations from patients.”
The Medtronic IHS team specializes in helping hospitals improve wait times by taking a deep dive into operational data such as staffing variables, bed availability, processing times, government guidelines, and changes in supply, including personal protective equipment. Medtronic IHS data science and analytics experts design custom simulation and modeling tools to review process flows, identify bottlenecks, and determine solutions to improve care pathways and patient outcomes.
“In healthcare, everyone is doing their best to provide optimal care and achieve the best outcomes for patients,” says IHS Senior Program Manager Morteza Zohrabi, MD. “However, there are many system-related issues that need to be analyzed and improved. Our job enables healthcare professionals to improve outcomes by working side by side to find solutions. And because we guarantee our results over the long-term, we support the implementation of solutions and help with course-correcting.”
One example that helps contribute to problem solving is a simulator that can be customized for specific situations. The simulator can turn raw data into useable insights that can help save staff from overtime, reduce length of stay, and improve design flow for such issues as safety protocols.
For example, in Newfoundland, IHS helped Eastern Health reduce inpatient wait times for the catheterization lab by 56 percent across the province. The simulator tool was integral to understanding how process improvements would improve wait times without increasing costs.
“In many ways it’s like watching a movie,” says IHS Project Manager Farbod Abolhassani. “It’s a really good tool to power decision-making. The simulation helps our clients understand the changes we are proposing and the impact of making those changes.”
Other considerations hospitals will have to make in the wake of COVID-19 will include physical redesigns to limit transmissible infections within the hospitals and optimizing the flow of patients to reduce time on site. Providing more remote monitoring of patients with chronic conditions will also help improve safety of both patients and caregivers.
Melicent Lavers-Sailly is Senior Manager, Stakeholder Engagement & Strategy, Canada, at Medtronic.