UCHealth explores data science to help improve operational efficiency

An innovative approach that combines data science and predictive analytics helps UCHealth, a nationally recognized system of hospitals and clinics based in Colorado, improve operational efficiencies in their infusion centers and operating rooms to improve patients' experiences, assist physicians and staff, and increase capacity in key areas.

Deployed in October 2015 at UCHealth's infusion centers at University of Colorado Hospital, the platform immediately began producing remarkable results. Patient wait times dropped by 60 percent during "rush hour" and, throughout the day, were an average of 33 percent lower. This patient wait time reduction occurred while patient peak time visits increased by 16 percent and overall patient volumes increased by 7 percent. As an added benefit, staff overtime hours in the infusion center dropped by 28 percent.

Optimizing OR Schedules – Not a Simple Task

Based on the UCHealth team's early success in its infusion centers, Chief Operating Officer Tom Gronow and Chief Information Officer Steve Hess searched for other operational uses for the platform. Just like every hospital in the country, UCHealth's operating rooms are one of its most valuable assets. Applying the results UCHealth achieved in its infusion centers to its OR operations, Gronow, Hess and their team quickly realized that a 3-5 percent improvement in utilization for just one of its operating rooms could contribute significantly to the hospital's bottom line. Since UCHealth's 38 operating rooms are constantly working to increase patient access, reduce patient wait time and optimize surgery team time, the team decided to employ the platform to build smarter schedules and improve the process of requesting and releasing surgery blocks (the chunks of time given to each surgeon for operations). Allocating OR blocks requires fitting surgery times into the correct block length to ensure that a two-hour operation is not given a four-hour block, as well as allocating blocks for multiple ORs to reduce surgery start-time delays and room turnover time. A host of variables complicate this task, including surgeon preferences and surgeries that go over or under the predicted duration.

UCHealth got data from a host of different sources, including electronic health records and data in Epic, SharePoint cubes, web-based reports from the hospital's partners and more, and had to manually interpret possible solutions to block issues. The new solution uses EHR data to understand utilization patterns and then applies sophisticated predictive algorithms to determine who to take block time away from and who to give it to in a way that meets the hospital's utilization and financial targets while still meeting the needs of UCHealth's surgeons.

Since mid-May 2016, the platform has been analyzing UCHealth's OR data in real time. After examining the information, the solution has provided an OR utilization report and recommended changes to improve OR utilization and efficiency. UCHealth has also begun piloting the technology's mobile block exchange, which enables surgeons and other administrators to schedule or release OR blocks from their mobile phones. Early results indicate a 16 percent higher utilization of blocks requested through the mobile block exchange than for average blocks.

A Quick Process

UCHealth has seen how the platform — developed by Silicon Valley startup LeanTaaS — is improving operational logistics, and the health system has begun developing plans to implement it in their other hospitals, just as it has done for the infusion center version of the platform in their other treatment centers. Peter Witt, MD, a UCHealth neurosurgeon, is looking forward to putting the analytics to use, saying, "It will allow for very immediate — almost live —– access to usage data related to my block time in the OR and will let me see if I am effective in using the allotted time."

UCHealth expects to see the benefits of applying data science and predictive analytics to healthcare operations go beyond operating rooms and infusion centers in several areas, including ambulatory clinics, radiology, pharmacy and UCHealth's clinical labs. According to UCHealth's Gronow, "The right analytics resource truly epitomizes the importance of planning for tomorrow, today."

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Ashley Walsh has served as UCHealth's perioperative business manager since 2009. UCHealth is a Colorado-based healthcare system that includes seven hospitals and hundreds of clinics throughout Colorado, Wyoming and Western Nebraska.

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