Hospitals use business intelligence to boost patient throughput

By Patty Enrado
01:38 PM

The effects of the economic downturn are driving C-level hospital executives to turn to process improvement initiatives. While only large hospitals can afford the expensive and long implementation of lean methodology, small to mid-size hospitals are finding business intelligence solutions are a more cost-effective alternative.

Business intelligence provides benefits in many areas, and it makes a significant impact on patient throughput. Hospitals must deal with nurse and physician staff shortages and the rise of uninsured patients in their emergency departments, said Rajat Sharma, CEO of Onward Systems, a data warehouse and business intelligence consulting firm. “There is not enough capacity for hospitals to efficiently handle the bottlenecks in patient throughput,” he said.

Ideally, if beds are efficiently used, a hospital can meet the demand, he said. When peak discharge doesn’t align with peak bed demand, however, hospitals often expand capacity by adding beds. For a 350-bed hospital, adding 30 beds, or 10 percent capacity, requires upwards of $34 million in capital investment - something many hospitals don’t have in this environment, Sharma pointed out.

Adding 30 beds generally translates into an additional 1,750 admissions per year, he said. With approximately $8,000 per admission, hospitals can generate $14 million per year.

By implementing business intelligence, however, hospitals can bypass the substantial upfront capital expenditure and see ROI much faster, he said. Patient throughput is a business and process problem that affects every department, Sharma said. IT and business intelligence improves the bottom line.

There are other benefits, Sharma said. With reimbursement rates fixed, longer, extended length of stay means hospitals incur greater expenses. A more efficient process results in a lowered length of stay. It also translates into higher satisfaction among clinicians and patients. A more predictable workflow means nurses and other hospital staff can be scheduled appropriately. Physician satisfaction increases with a more efficient patient throughput.

Beyond enabling efficient patient throughput, business intelligence can deliver value by pulling data and bringing it into a common repository, enabling analyses when a patient is admitted into the ED. It also allows clinicians to have greater visibility and a unified view of patients from admission to discharge.

Hospitals should look for business intelligence solutions that are scalable in order to address other issues such as patient safety, Sharma said. There are a lot of vendors out there, but in this economic environment hospitals need to eschew point solutions and choose solutions that provide value beyond any particular problem, he said. The bottom line is that “business intelligence is a great way to get bang for your buck with a relatively modest investment,” he said.