Can hospitals really operate without Operations?

March 10, 2023

A lot of television series and movies are made about hospitals. We’ve had Chicago Hope, ER, Greys Anatomy, the Good Doctor, House – the list goes on and on.

And what all of these programs have in common – other than being set in big and busy city hospitals, buzzing with endless energy – is they focus squarely on the work of clinicians.

They centre on solving challenging medical mysteries, attending to mass victims of a natural disaster, or risky surgeries during which doctors hold patients’ lives in their hands.

What they don’t focus on is how that ER remains perfectly sterile and clean so those surgeries can take place.

Or who exactly activates those code blacks that echo through the halls of the hospital and close down entries and exits.

And no one has written a script that focuses on the mystery of where all the wheelchairs are hiding, when patients need to be moved from room to X Ray, MRI or exit, to clear much-needed beds.

The fact is, despite what we see on TV, hospitals are complex hives of activity that rely on innovative machinery, frontline clinical workers AND operational staff to enable patient care, regardless of the situation.

Unfortunately, for the most part, real life imitates art, and from the outside in, the operational side of hospitals is often overlooked, while focus is given to clinical.

The question is – even with the best clinicians in the world – can a hospital actually operate, without its operations team?

Evolving hospital technology: clinical VS operations

Over the last decade, we have really started to see the rise of technology in hospitals, outside of innovations in diagnostic machinery.

As these busy healthcare settings have moved further away from the manual, paper-based processes of the past, and into the computer and systems-driven processes of the future, global companies have invested billions in producing software to support them.

And while that investment has been made across both clinical and operational solutions, the same can’t equally be said for the implementation investment made by hospitals, where more significant budget has been allocated to clinical upgrades, over operational.

Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent in Australia alone – billions in the USA – on introducing clinical software solutions such as Electronic Medical Records (EMRs, or EHRs in the USA), to enable better clinical care of patients.

And though these systems are important in bringing hospitals into the 21st century, the imbalance in investment between operations and clinical, points to a lack of emphasis on the absolutely crucial role operations plays in hospitals.

In an ideal world, the concept of clinical vs operations shouldn’t exist, the two should be seen as they are: symbiotic – neither capable of enabling efficient and effective care without the other.

But in reality, this is not the case, and whether due to optics, traditional thinking, insufficient budgets or simply whose voice is the loudest, clinical is being advanced, while comparatively, operations is being left behind, despite solutions being readily available.

Enabling balance: clinical AND operations

In an era of unprecedented demand, skills shortages and budgetary challenges, truly advancing hospitals and patient care starts with removing the ‘versus’ concept and instead, considering how operations and clinical can complement each other.

It’s starts with acknowledging that surgeons are crucial, but without skilled cleaners, their post-op patients will suffer from infections that may cause death.

Radiologists are important, but if an orderly can’t locate a wheelchair and transport a patient to their scans, diagnosis of injury and subsequent treatment can never take place.

Nurses are vital, but if operational-based security teams aren’t on standby, and can’t be notified in a timely manner of their location when they are attacked by patients, their numbers will continue to dwindle and hospitals will fall apart.

Everyone has a role to play in a hospital – a role that enables someone else to do their job effectively – and when that all comes together seamlessly, patient care can be optimised.

Hospital operations software is the glue that can bring that together. It is what can take hospital technology from a precarious house of cards, to a strong and sound structure that can support the never-ending demand of excellence in patient care.

Looking at it this way, while EMR is inarguably useful and deserving of investment, not only can the same be said of hospital operations software, it can also be inferred that this clinical software – and the billions invested in it – can never truly be effective, without investment in hospital operations solutions.

The role of operational technology in hospitals

Perhaps due to our focus on the clinical side of hospitals, or our love of Greys Anatomy, for most people, the benefits of clinical solutions like EMR are clear. If patient records are digitised, and stored securely as such, we make them more accessible, useful, and less prone to human error.

The benefits of hospital operations systems can be less obvious, because just like operational staff, they hum along quietly in the background to make everything work.

The premise of effective hospital operations software and solutions is integration.

Right now, hospitals run mostly on countless disparate and disconnected systems that don’t talk to each other.

These systems rely on the people in between to link them together – to consider the outputs of one with the outputs of another to somehow draw the right conclusions, make the right decisions and take the right actions.

Needless to say, this is how errors are made, processes are slowed, lives are lost.

A hospital operations integration platform brings together all of these systems so they can finally work together effectively. It reduces the burden on the already overworked and stressed people that sit between systems, and accurately automates conclusions that are currently being made manually.

These platforms, like Olinqua’s IGNITE, enable automatic task-based notifications to staff that save vital time and enhance efficiency; they improve information sharing to ensure patient movements happen at the right time; and they empower clinicians and operations staff with better communication that supports collaboration.

By linking everything together – people, devices, systems – they transform hospitals from buildings full of distinct and separate situations, into intricate webs, for which the myriad of connections can be better understood and optimised.

A small investment goes a long way

Perhaps one of the biggest advantages of operational technology for hospitals with tight regulation of spend, is the simplest – it doesn’t just deliver value for money, it is a mere fraction of the cost of implementing clinical solutions like EMR.

As technology has advanced, even in recent years, truly effective and leading hospital operations solutions have started to move away from niche applications that address only one area of need – staff duress, task tracking, or asset tracking, as examples.

They have evolved to become platforms that offer solutions across the board, that can expand and change as the hospital does the same.

“Avoid closed ecosystem vendors,” says Olinqua CTO, David Paré. “They force hospitals into buying only from their kit bag, which creates huge expense and results in notable limitations.”

“Instead, start small, with an open platform. Get what you need initially, and then extend the capabilities of your solution over time, to meet the many operational needs of the hospital, with one, single interoperable platform.”

As time has passed, the demands on healthcare and hospitals have changed and intensified. If we aren’t able to bring together the people, the systems and the machines that run them, the simple truth is, we will not be able to keep up.

Clinicians play an essential role in doing just that – in providing the hands-on care that our communities need so much. But if we don’t start shifting our thinking, and seeing that operations is just as essential, that its work is the foundation of a well-run hospital, healthcare will face many more challenges than it should.

At the end of the day, patients don’t get by without surgeries, diagnosis, treatment, and none of those happen without orderlies, cleaners, maintenance.

Hospitals just don’t operate without their operations teams.