The following article appeared in the August 2014 edition of Health Facilities Management magazine.

Using Technology to Boost Operational Efficiency

By Amy Eagle

Several technologies, from basic communication devices to advanced digital modeling, can help health care facilities to operate more efficiently.

Nurse call systems' event-driven notifications to wireless devices are an underutilized aspect of a technology many providers already have, says Ted Hood, senior vice president and chief operating officer for health care consulting firm GBA Inc., Franklin, Tenn. These notifications can speed room turnover and make many other routine tasks more.efficient. Using the room-status monitors and staff termi­nals available from many nurse call vendors, caregivers can, via a touch screen installed in the patient room, instantly notify the appropriate departments when a patient is ready to be discharged, the room is ready to be cleaned or the room is ready for the next patient. Similar notifications can speed the turnaround time for lab results reporting.

In addition, these systems can be used to set protocol reminders, prompting a nurse to turn a patient every 40 minutes, for example, and they can automate tasks like paging physicians for consults. "Because (the systems) are programmable now, the options are limitless based on what the facility can come up with," Hood says.

Patient education systems and real­ time locating systems (RTLSs) also can increase caregiver efficiency. RTLS technology, which generally uses radiofrequency identification tags. to track people or equip­ ment in a facility, takes time and thought to implement into hospital processes, Hood says, but can make it easy to find equipment, which he notes.nurses "are constantly chasing down," or automati­cally do things like cancel a call when a nurse walks into a patient room. Here, too, custom solutions are available, such as programming an RTLS to prevent dementia patients from accessing an unlocked stair­ well by securing doors upon approach.

Simulation software is a tool used to create a digital model of a facility design and evaluate how the design affects work­ flow. "It links the structure of the facility with patient care delivery processes," says Allyson Robbins, co-founding partner, Ana­lytical Decision Services LLC, Aurora, Colo. Organizations that want to experiment with alternative ways to deliver care can run "what if" scenarios in the model, explains company co-founder Michelle Boyd. The Mental Health Center of Denver is using this software to plan how its facility can meet an anticipated surge in patient demand following implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

"Simulation gives you the opportunity to quantify the effects of change," says Steve Clayman, AIA, ACHA, vice president of Lavallee Brensinger Architects and founder, Optimal-Use, both of Manches­ter, N.H. "This tool provides evidence for designers' ideas."

Technology need not be complex to be effective. Auburn (Ala.) University Medical Clinic (AUMC) uses a patient paging system manufactured by Long Range Systems, Addison, Texas, to optimize patient flow. At check-in, patients receive a paging device by which they are notified - quickly, quietly and confidentially - when an exam room is ready. "It's very simple and very effective," says Maegan Hamner, marketing coordinator, AUMC.