Smart Surgery

Safety in the Operating Room: Safety isn’t Expensive, it’s Priceless

10 Mar 2021

It is no secret that the pandemic has dramatically affected hospital and health system financial fortunes. Elective care is down dramatically and perhaps rightly so, at least to some extent. Additionally, financial pressures have been increasing on hospitals for years, as a function of competitive pressures, consolidation, local market dynamics, regulatory pressures, and the push for value-based care, among other things.

Care delivery is in the process of being dramatically transformed but at a pace that is much slower than what we want and deserve. Still, there are some things hospitals, health systems and ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs) can do to improve their fortunes. Consider the following as context:
  • In late 2020, Deloitte published a paper pointing out how M&A can be used as a tool to innovate for the future.
  • Deloitte also recently published a report indicating that health care spending in 2040 will be 3.5 Trillion LESS than what a pre-pandemic federal government estimate indicated.
  • Relatedly, Milliman published a paper on how insurers and providers can optimize investments and investment income to better position themselves for future growth and what are sure to be dramatic (and dynamic) market changes.

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While these are certainly viable financial propositions that would help providers to be more successful going forward and may have their place in the overall strategic management of a portfolio, there is also another approach that is not as widely talked about – at least not yet – and that is the need for an increased focus on patient safety.

Big data and analytics will arguably represent the greatest opportunity to control health care costs while providing good outcomes. Adopting them and integrating them into the very fabric of organizations will be essential. In short, every organization will need to become a digital organization – much more quickly than today’s pace. As we begin to see the end of the pandemic and contemplate what that future looks like, one thing is certain: Safety, including cleanliness and other attributes, will be even more paramount than before. Therefore, this presents hospitals, health systems and ASCs with an extraordinary opportunity to shape their own futures with patient safety at the heart of this effort. So where do they begin?

The operating room (OR) represents the most lucrative part of a hospital. As procedure volumes have dropped significantly, this is the opportune time to make much-needed investments in the areas of increased patient safety, transparency, and good outcomes. More broadly, reimagining design elements (e.g. more sunlight), better data-sharing, better hygiene, telemedicine, and an increased emphasis on patient safety and technology to better manage patient flow and volume can significantly aid fortunes. One of the most crucial and significant ways, however, is to increase the use of technology in the OR as some hospitals have begun doing.

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Everyone understands that the OR is a uniquely dynamic, complex, and extremely risky environment. A patient’s outcomes depend on how well the team works together to get the job done right – the very first time. Nevertheless, while optimizing teamwork and technical skills in the OR is important, there are limits to what the human eye can see and capture, and what we as human beings can do in the heat of the moment. As a result, using technology that more easily allows for, and facilitates monitoring and measurement of critical aspects, is one more way to dramatically and positively, affect patient outcomes.

Using technology with corresponding analytics to make the OR much more of a digital environment will pay quick dividends in a variety of areas. The ability to capture, train, and collaborate is not only good for the organization but also provides real-world insights that are always critical but even more so in a post-pandemic, value-based care environment.

While hospitals and health systems should always be doing everything they can to enhance patient safety, decrease lengths of stay, improve outcomes, lower costs etc., the stark reality is that we have a long way to go to reach the desired state. One can safely say that the pandemic has brought about change, perhaps even lasting change, in many ways. So, while it undoubtedly takes time, money, and effort to drive organizational improvement methodically and consistently, especially in complicated and high-stress environments like the OR, hospital, health system and ASC executives should ask themselves if they can really afford not to do this, especially if it improves patient safety going forward. In other words, we should all embrace the old saying: “Safety isn’t expensive, it’s priceless.”

Rajiv Sood

Written by Rajiv Sood

Global Head Risk Management Solutions

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