By Rick Halton, VP of Marketing, Lumeon
Healthcare institutions are starting to bounce back from the COVID pandemic. Patients who have been putting off care during months of lockdown and distancing are now ready to re-engage, and providers have their work cut out for them to handle the huge bow wave created by the backlog of care.
The immediate task is to ramp surgery volumes back up to 2019 levels. This would be a challenge all on its own, but it’s going to take more than simply pushing the accelerator on business-as-usual. Patients now prefer more virtual engagement during preparation and recovery — they want to continue with as much of the digital experience they’ve been enjoying lately while being physically present only when absolutely necessary.
As such, providers need to focus on implementing a digital-first perioperative journey. Significant progress has occurred on this front over the last 18 months, but many efforts have been ad hoc, like plugging holes on a sinking boat instead of re-engineering the craft from stem to stern. Now, providers should think holistically, taking a strategic view on how to address productivity in perioperative care through automation and digitization.
Insights from a survey of 85 surgery leaders commissioned by Lumeon in October 2021 shed light on current challenges, priorities, and opportunities for perioperative care. The majority of those interviewed say they are suffering major staff capacity issues and seek alternative ways to drive productivity and efficiency.
Healthcare providers are struggling to deal with staff burnout, issues in retention and recruitment, concerns about patient safety, and difficulties in care coordination. The top operational challenges survey respondents identified in ramping back up to pre-COVID volumes are staffing capacity, coverage, flexibility, and support, followed by prioritizing and rescheduling elective surgeries.
Staffing shortages and difficulties in recruitment are creating problems with productivity and throughput. A vast majority — 84% — of the respondents identified staff burnout and retention as one of the top three issues needing attention in the next 12 months.
While 26% of healthcare providers were operating at more than 90% volume before COVID, only 14% are at that level today. Though many institutions have been able to ramp back up close to pre-pandemic levels, COVID surges sometimes disrupt timelines for surgeries and procedures. Many survey respondents admit that the cost of surgical care is too high to be profitable. This has led to an increased focus on high-value service lines such as orthopedic surgery and a strong interest in virtualizing care through automation technology.
Healthcare leaders see growing top-line revenue as their top long-term priority, but in the meantime, they are focused on providing high-quality, well-coordinated, easily accessible care. This means prioritizing ways to free up capacity, provide effective support to staff, and improve productivity. Other priorities are making patients feel safe enough to reschedule and freeing up OR capacity so that providers can in fact reschedule elective surgeries.
All of these priorities can be addressed in part by pursuing an overarching focus: Virtualizing perioperative care processes. Most healthcare leaders now recognize that EHRs alone can’t help increase productivity and lower the cost of care. Many have made progress in preoperative readiness using order sets and checklists, but much more can be done. More than 50% of the survey respondents believe their EHR is not a solution for their future needs. They see a need for automation, interoperability, mobile app support, and EHR workflow, which technology must provide beyond the EHR.
Healthcare leaders are looking for ways to increase flexibility, agility, and digitization to encourage surgery appointments, readiness, and throughput. They are ambitious: 68% of perioperative leaders surveyed would like to see most of their patients participate in virtual, automated preoperative readiness in the next 12 months.
When looking at opportunities, healthcare leaders should keep in mind that new processes to improve productivity should ease employees’ load rather than generate more work. Doing so will require finding efficient, holistic solutions instead of ending up with a “duct tape and rubber bands” approach to digital transformation. They have the opportunity to put solutions in place that connect, coordinate, and automate care operations, making patients’ care journeys more streamlined and enjoyable and reducing burden and burnout among staff.
Read the full survey report to learn more about healthcare providers’ challenges, priorities, and opportunities for perioperative care in the post-COVID era.