In the 1960s, airports started using air traffic control technology that allowed them to swiftly transition from scheduling a few hundred flights a day to managing thousands. Now, many airports handle millions of passengers every day. Despite the vast complexity of such a logistical challenge, the airline industry also became significantly safer and more efficient along the way.
This “air traffic control” concept soon spread to other industries. Bricks-and-mortar businesses and restaurants use it to track busy times and appropriately staff those periods, for example. Utilities like the New York Power Authority deploy similar systems to monitor their networks of power plants and power lines. Now the healthcare industry is taking its turn.
Last fall, Toronto’s Humber River Hospital (HRH) opened Canada’s first analytics-based hospital “command center” in collaboration with GE Healthcare Partners. The mission-control-style center serves as a central hub for the hospital’s many functions and services. It helps address issues that have plagued healthcare in Canada for decades, such as capacity, safety, quality and wait times. “Our goal in the Command Center is to combine cutting-edge technology, insight-rich data and human expertise to deliver impact that is felt immediately by patients, physicians and care providers,” says Barbara Collins, president and CEO of HRH.
The new 4,500-square-foot Command Center uses machine learning and complex algorithms developed by GE Healthcare Partners to produce real-time and predictive insights. The center’s staff can use these insights to deliver safer, faster and better patient care. HRH leaders expect the center, in combination with HRH’s recently implemented hospital-wide digital transformation, to improve hospital efficiency by 40 percent.
For patients, the center promises to result in less wait time and improved care. For clinicians, it can mean more time freed up to focus on those patients. “This isn’t about telling doctors how to be doctors, but rather it’s about helping and supporting them in doing their work, removing roadblocks and barriers,” says Dr. Susan Tory, the Command Center’s medical director.
The Command Center’s most striking feature is what GE Healthcare calls the Wall of Analytics. It processes real-time data from multiple sources across the hospital and visualizes the information and corresponding alerts for staff in the Command Center to act upon. “The Command Center helps us rethink how we run the hospital,” Collins says.
For example, hospital staff members run bed meetings one or more times a day to understand bed needs and current and future bed availability. In the past, managers from each unit would gather data about available beds and input it into an information system for discussion at the meeting. “By the time they arrived at the bed meeting, the information was outdated,” Collins says. “The Command Center replaces that by pulling the information together in real time and presenting it in a way that is useful.”
Hospital teams now work together to synchronize care delivery. Information on the Wall of Analytics helps them streamline the flow of patients in and out of beds, eliminate delays in care such as inpatients waiting for their imaging exam, and resolve bottlenecks by prioritizing care activities. In this way, HRH is working to ensure that is makes full use of available capacity and that patients are properly cared for.
HRH began its digital transformation in 2005, when planning started for the new Humber River Hospital, which opened October 2015 and serves a region of more than 850,000 residents. Patient volumes have grown at a higher-than-anticipated rate, and hospital leaders are projecting a shortfall of 40 to 50 beds for nonsurgical patients by 2021. “We’re at full capacity today, and we’re only going to see more and more patients through our front door. How are we going to deal with that?” says Peter Bak, the hospital’s chief information officer. “We can’t just say, ‘Sorry, you’re going to wait longer.’ That’s not acceptable.”
In addition to addressing capacity and access issues, the Command Center also will help with Humber’s goal of improving patient safety. “We need to drive hospitals to a point where they don’t make errors,” Bak says. “The Command Center acts as a second set of eyes and allows us to reduce the potential for mistakes.”
Hospital leadership will analyze each day’s alerts and the actions they trigger to identify and resolve system-level issues such as portering capacity or discharge-process effectiveness.
In much the same way airports transformed in the 1960s to today, HRH is leading the way in the healthcare industry by implementing innovative technology that will enable it to serve its community well through the next era. Collins is confident the Command Center positions HRH for the future. “For the first time in 40 years, we have a tangible way to sustain change.”
GE Healthcare Partners expects to bring more command centers online in 2018. The unit says that by 2020, command centers will be a critical feature that hospitals can’t survive without.
This story originally appeared on GE Healthcare’s Pulse blog.