Automating care operations: How to reduce care team workload and enhance patient care

Automation use cases are expanding beyond repetitive administrative workflows to higher-level clinical care management and decision-making processes.

During a workshop at Becker's Hospital Review's 12th Annual Meeting sponsored by Qventus and moderated by Mudit Garg, co-founder and chief executive officer at Qventus, healthcare leaders discussed how health systems are using automation to address immediate and long-term challenges, including length of stay, staffing shortages and patient care. Panelists were:

  • Tammy Corley, RN, vice president of acute care management, Bon Secours Mercy Health in Cincinnati
  • Rebecca Lenz, chief care delivery officer, Bon Secours Mercy Health
  • Sam Pierre, MD, medical director of utilization review and clinical documentation improvement, Wisconsin-based ThedaCare
  • Jim Whitfill, MD, senior vice president and chief transformation officer, HonorHealth in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Five key insights:

1.) Care operations is the next frontier of automation. To date, automation in healthcare has been mostly used in back-office operations to remove the administrative burden. Increasingly, though, automation is being considered as a tool to alleviate the workload of clinical teams.. “Improving length of stay is not new work… but what this pandemic really highlighted is that this work is more critical than ever. This was a real opportunity for us to rethink what we had been doing and really come around to something more transformational in terms of our approach,” Ms Lenz said.

Health systems are taking a multi-pronged approach to automation use cases. In addition to back-office applications, health systems are exploring how to use automation within existing systems, such as EHRs. “As someone who leads our technology arm, we've been looking a lot at automation. We’re putting several irons in the fire…we’re now working with Qventus to automate clinical workflows, and we’re beginning to think about workflows and orchestration across our larger network,” Dr. Whitfill said.

2.) Automation can drive accountability, which translates to better patient care and experience. Some quality metrics, such as length of stay, are largely dependent on patients' health status or speed of recovery, but are also impacted by culture. When the care team is not aligned on key elements of the patient’s discharge plan, it’s difficult to set expectations for patients and their loved ones. But AI can predict estimated date of discharge and discharge barriers early in the patient stay, so there’s more consistency in planning across the team. Machine learning-based prediction of ED dispositions may reveal patterns of potentially unnecessary admissions.

 “If the team is all on the same page, delivering the same message about that patient's care journey, what that's going to look like in a queue, what are our goals and objectives, discharge dates — you're going to get higher patient satisfaction. And we've actually have seen some early signs of that already,” Ms. Corley said, referring to the impact Qventus's solution has had on discharge planning workflows at Bon Secours Mercy Health.

3.) Delays in patient care due to staffing shortages can be mitigated with automation. Healthcare is riddled with manual processes that can be frustrating for care team members; it is also threatened by staffing shortages. Automation can address both challenges by leveraging technology that performs some of those workflows while providing visibility into how staff can most efficiently use their time in others.

Dr. Pierre said a ThedaCare hospital had to delay a patient's hip surgery for three days because it did not have enough nurses to staff the operating room. "We don't want that to be our standard of care, so we've started looking at ways that we can better utilize our ORs. In working with the Qventus team, we're going to be able to take every minute of OR time that we want to staff … and offer it to the surgeon [to confirm whether they] can fit a surgery into that. We can better utilize the time that we have so that we have fewer delays." 

4.) Automation reduces staff workload and improves employee satisfaction. By reducing cognitive load and off-loading manual tasks, such as back-and-forth coordination, automation improves the clinical work environment for care team members across the hospital. With staffing shortages and a challenging labor market, this is more important than ever. “We have to ensure that we're bringing a higher level of employee satisfaction in the acute space. It's riddled with a lot of manual frustrating processes…providing AI technology and workflow support certainly beats [a care manager] chasing every member of the team around trying to get the appropriate information and frustrating for nursing and providers as well,” said Ms. Corley.

As another example, Dr. Pierre added “One of my favorite things is the prioritization queue for the care  team. When people leave the MDR, the physical therapist knows that ‘this patient's discharge is waiting on me’ — rather than ‘I don't know, I've got these 20 patients, I'm going to do them one through 20.’ We can prioritize things better.”

5.) Health systems are accelerating their use of automation for care operations. The perfect storm of challenges in the healthcare industry today are forcing health systems to rethink how they can operate sustainably, and many  leaders view automation as a key strategy for transformation. “Patients and consumers more than ever are looking for that personalized care journey. They have expectations despite the challenges we are facing that are higher than ever. Automation is only going to become more and more the way of the future to create that efficiency and eliminate care variation,” said Ms. Lenz.

Automation is already unlocking efficiencies that improve the care team experience, and health system leaders believe there is a long runway of new opportunities on the horizon. “Ultimately, I think the promise land is trying to find where we can have machines do work that is very mechanical and is not fun work for humans to do,” said Dr. Whitfill. 

To learn how you can automate care operations with Qventus, watch the Inpatient Solution Overview Video or Perioperative Solution Overview Video. For a real-world case study on transforming operations systemwide, view the M Health Fairview Case Study Video.

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