Years ago, I came into healthcare in a roundabout way. I studied industrial engineering, the science of looking at processes and systems and understanding, even predicting, how they work together. Typically, industrial engineers proceed to work in manufacturing or logistics, to design assembly lines or shorten supply chain delivery times. However, when Grady Memorial Hospital came to Georgia Tech, where I was a student, looking for an engineering student to apply engineering principles to their chaotic emergency room, I was hooked.
My initial work in healthcare became all about mapping out workflows, identifying bottlenecks and focusing not just on individual problems but evaluating entire systems. I learned to carefully identify patterns, structures, and constraints that were leading to long patient wait times and how to optimize them.
Engineer superior healthcare processes
Three overriding principles an engineering mindset brings to healthcare organizations help not only produce better patient outcomes but also save time and money in ways that drive bottom-line results:
– First, increase visibility system-wide by building a centralized set of appointment scheduling and patient engagement programs. The more holistically you can look at the current state of the system, the better able you are to optimize processes to deliver better results.
A typical example of one problem a lack of visibility brings is the inability to fill physician capacity. My experience talking to providers over many years suggests that often 10-25% of appointment slots go unfilled each day. That happens for many reasons: Lack of visibility across both the network and appointment types, overly complex scheduling templates that make it difficult to identify open slots, appointment durations that do not reflect the actual time needed to provide care, static resource allocation due to difficulty adjusting capacity, and simple calendar-based scheduling systems that lack built-in automation rules and so require a high degree of human interference. A centralized approach that captures and intelligently automates both consumer and provider preferences is better able to satisfy patients and provide efficiencies and savings to the healthcare business.
– Second, employ a mobile approach to patient engagement and organizational workflows that integrates smartphones, tablets, wearables, and other mobile devices to meet patients where they are and open opportunities for improved patient care, remote monitoring, teleconsultations, and better data exchange.
The number of Americans who own a smartphone has increased from 35% to 85% in the last decade, and mobile search accounts for almost two-thirds of all organic search. Enabling patients to book, cancel, and reschedule appointments via mobile devices makes it easier for them to access their health information and book appointments almost anytime, anywhere. This matters to patients, who are increasingly impatient with the status quo: More than 60% of patients recently surveyed indicated they’ve skipped going to the doctor because of scheduling hassles.
Beyond providing increased flexibility in appointment scheduling, mobile access simplifies the ease with which patients can check their medical records, view test results, ask for prescription refills, and conduct telehealth appointments. Empowering patients to take greater control over their health not only tends to increase their patient satisfaction, it also vastly reduces the administrative tasks required by a healthcare organization’s staff.
– Third, capture and automate both provider and patient scheduling preferences to simplify administration and keep your providers fully booked. A centralized appointment scheduling system that has built-in intelligence about all the many provider preferences at your institution—e.g., which doctor wants to see what sort of patients on which days at which clinic locations—has helped many healthcare institutions dramatically improve their filled-appointments rate as well as much more easily handle appointment cancellations with automated backfilling and waitlists.
Equally important, intelligent technology is built to already know and recognize information about the patient, so streamlines the intake process by pre-filling important demographic information, from a patient’s birthdate, current medications, and insurance type, or medical and surgical history.
An eye towards the future
Using an engineering mindset to build more streamlined, automated healthcare processes can be the answer to many of healthcare’s critical problems. In a day of vast innovation, expansion, and acquisitions, an engineering mindset can bring a unique and effective approach to thinking across the system, evaluating the current and future state, standardizing on best practices, and considering upstream and downstream workflows.