For a patient with an acute illness, there’s no graver enemy than time. A diagnosis a week too late, surgery that runs too long — these can be the dividing lines that separate life and death.
But at Bell Land General Hospital in Osaka Prefecture, Japan, medical professionals are working to free up more time for doctors to save more lives by digitizing the way they interact with data.
Time represents a unique challenge for the Japanese healthcare industry. The country’s proportion of elderly residents, already believed to be the highest in the world, is expanding at a rate far surpassing that of any other nation. As a result, Japan is racing to overhaul its healthcare industry by 2025, when the average baby boomer is projected to be 75 or older. At the same time, care providers are facing mounting pressure to treat more patients in less time and deliver better outcomes, all while minimizing costs.
At Bell Land, which is dedicated to treating acute-stage patients, these trends are amplified. “At an acute-stage hospital, it’s unavoidable that the patient’s condition will vary from moment to moment,” said Yoshiaki Suzuki, chief engineer of radiology at Bell Land. “Even if we give it our best effort, lengthy waiting times have an adverse effect on the patient.”
To reduce the length of time patients spend waiting to see a doctor or to obtain examination results, Bell Land is working with GE to automate much of its data analytics workload. The hospital is piloting a new system that will aggregate data automatically from patient charts, diagnostic imaging and other sources and provide a graphical visualization of the information that care providers need
The new system, called Applied Intelligence, enables hospital coordinators and care providers to review information such as waiting times and referral exam volumes in real time to improve the process of making decisions. In the past, this data would have been collected manually, entered into spreadsheets and reviewed by hospital workers over the course of hours or even days. But Applied Intelligence aggregates these numbers instantly without human intervention. It can then suggest ways to improve operations through improved staff allocation, smarter inventory management, and other ways.
Much of the methodology driving these improvements is rooted in the digitization of industrial manufacturing — an evolution playing out some 500 kilometers to the north at GE’s Hino Plant, which produces CT scanners and other medical imaging equipment. Much of the factory is connected to a sensor network that tracks production in real time. The system relies on automated data input. Helpful visualizations enable operators to identify new opportunities for improvement. Over time, these steps allow the managers to standardize and streamline production. The technology already has reduced the need for night shifts, for example.
Bell Land deployed the Applied Intelligence pilot in the hospital’s radiology and enterprise integration departments, where it has already greatly reduced the time workers spend entering and analyzing data. Bell Land expects to see similar gains across its entire facility as it expands the pilot. The hospital hopes these improvements will help ensure that it’s able to effectively serve patients in the years to come.
“If you can actually get a handle on the situation, you get different ideas about how you might solve the problem by doing this or that,” Suzuki said. “Being more efficient doesn’t mean we should work more. Rather, by being more effective at our jobs, we can create more time to treat patients.”