Building operational agility

How leaders can turn pandemic resource management lessons into building blocks for future success.

In the past 20 months, providers have spent countless hours treating COVID-19 patients, healthcare workers have administered 4.4 billion vaccines, and the world has adapted to a new way of life. The pandemic has doubtlessly affected healthcare in devastating ways, but like all challenges it has also brought lessons and growth. As a shock to the entire healthcare system, it served as a catalyst for innovation. The new and pressing demands of the pandemic led the healthcare industry to overcome many long running barriers to the advancement of technology. Telemedicine, for example, responded to the pandemic with agility, adapting to public needs at a rate quicker than ever seen before.

With the rapid rate of modernization stemming from fast-acting pandemic response times, hospitals and health systems must lean into this new normal and consider how to develop this into lasting, sustained change. To maintain this rapid speed of transformation, the key to success is applying management and operational agility into daily functions. It will be difficult to maintain the rapid pace of change, but there are a few vital lessons health leaders can use to turn pandemic resource management lessons into building blocks for future success. Below are the top three lessons for healthcare leaders on how to build with operational agility.

Streamline operations using technology

The U.S. has long been a leader in clinical change and development, but the same cannot be said for our operational functions. Hospitals have struggled at a high level to determine where to most effectively invest their money, and often focus on clinical solutions as immediate problem solvers. Many health leaders focus so acutely on clinical services that they lose sight of the ways operational excellence can directly improve the lives of hospital staff and patients.

Many modern technologies — those that determine demand using predictive analytics, foreshadow scheduling patterns using ML, provide visibility into backlogs, and use AI to improve block time allocation — lead directly to operational excellence. By leveraging these various technologies, hospitals can streamline operations to impact not only high-level outcomes, but more importantly, day-to-day functions. Technology plays a significant role in modern operations and to achieve operational excellence hospitals must proactively commission truly intelligent technology.

Innovate from a process perspective

Historically, hospitals have been conservative in changing technology and processes. They have the ‘if it’s not broken don’t fix it’ mindset, and have not been overly receptive to quickly adopting the newest innovation.

Again, health leaders were shocked into change by the pandemic. Hospitals briefly modeled a willingness to adapt to change because the demand for services was so great. OR block committees suddenly removed longstanding blocks and inpatient bed systems quickly rearranged their unit configuration.

This receptiveness should continue even now. To respond to supply and demand surges, hospitals can remain flexible and agile in their operations, always willing to adapt to change as needed.

Use automation to stay competitive

Many providers find it easier to make a reservation for a table of four at a popular restaurant than to schedule block time in their own OR. Restaurants use a system to automate the routine process of reservations, whereas hospitals still use valuable staff time to schedule and block OR sessions. Automating mundane, predictable hospital functions frees up clinicians and staff to work at the top of their license and spend time where they’re truly needed — with patients, in ORs, and solving complex healthcare questions.

In an era of digital transformation, hospitals must meet patients' needs by listening to what they desire.Other service industries are quickly adopting AI, and consumers want to speed up processes by using technology to save time, such as using online check-in before appointments. If hospitals want to stay competitive, they must remain willing to look to technology for assistance and listen to the needs of their staff and patients.

The future of healthcare points towards technology led process transformation. Hospitals can take the lessons they learned during the pandemic response and implement them into everyday operational functions. Healthcare is innovating at a rate never seen before and by adopting a mindset of change, health workers can leverage technology to improve patient lives. Because at the end of the day, clinical care improves when operations are streamlined to their fullest extent.