Operations Management in Healthcare

As the healthcare sector undergoes rapid change in the face of reform, pressure to decrease costs and emphasis on improving service quality, healthcare organizations are turning to operations managers and tools to increase overall efficiency.

With all of these complex factors, healthcare operational performance is a full team effort that must include clinical and non-clinical operations. It requires an overview across myriad disciplines, systems and tools to drive the change necessary to meet the demands of today’s healthcare patients and stakeholders.

What is Operations Management in Healthcare?

The practice of operations management in healthcare includes overseeing all practices established to monitor and manage the many processes occurring to drive the services produced, spanning financing, staffing, policy and facilities. These practices can range from quality assurance, care coordination, staff certification and licensing, credentialing, overseeing health insurance and related claims risks, organizing medical review, legal, auditing and compliance programs.

Overall, operations management in healthcare requires overseeing the day-to-day practices of the hospital that influence the patient’s experience while also taking on higher-level strategic operations.

What Do Hospital Operations Managers?

In hospitals, operations managers take on many tasks in the direction of day-to-day hospital operations, including:

  • Adhering to the operating budget, financial goals and objectives with economic and efficient performance
  • Establishing policies and procedures that support high-quality healthcare service, in partnership with hospital management, medical teams and the surrounding community
  • Managing a team of healthcare professionals
  • Influencing strategic decisions related to hospital functions
  • Resolving operational issues and analyzes workflow

Challenges and Benefits of Operations Management in Healthcare

In recent years, the role of operations management has shifted due to mounting complexity in the industry, bringing new challenges and benefits to the role.

Patient Focus
All the emphasis on cost reduction can put a strain on the services and quality provided to patients, particularly if poorly managed budgets hamper technology and equipment purchases. The operations manager can help oversee costs and ensure service levels are met. And, when operations managers transform processes, they lead to better outcomes for patients, from reduced wait times to better trained staff to improved overall processes.

Thanks to technology, organizations across industry can now collect a bevy of data that can power their business decisions. Electronic Health Records (EHRs), which have been widely adopted in recent years, have unlocked the ability to better coordinate care along with offering an immediate and updated view of health for providers.

While this can be beneficial, operations managers must ensure their organizations are equipped to not only collect, but also to use the data to create meaningful, actionable insights. When operations managers can harness their data, they can better understand the patient experience, hospital capacity, how people flow through the system and how the system is used overall. This may even mean leveraging predictive analytics to better understand and plan for future staffing and capacity needs. Multiple executives told Hospital & Health Networks (H&HN) in an executive dialogue that it was the facts found in the data that transformed organizational perspective and really spurred change.

Data also provides a measure for accountability through established benchmarks.

Transforming healthcare institutions requires good communication. First, executives need to understand the data and support driving change to ignite processes. Then, all departments and roles need to understand processes and objectives to really drive change.

Technology tools, like EHRs, can also unlock more cohesive communication. Bed Management systems help coordinate patient placement across the healthcare system, ultimately reducing stays and better managing capacity.

Process Improvement
One of the key challenges facing healthcare is high costs that stem from overusing of emergency-based, expensive or technological methods of healthcare. Not to mention the many instances where care is simply never paid for being patients are uninsured. That burden is then shared with taxpayers, health insurance holders and the healthcare institution. Using process improvement techniques like Lean Six Sigma, operations managers can step into help balance and streamline how – and when – costly care is administered, and boost partnership with organizations that can provide preventative care.

Often, process improvement requires overhauling practices, cultures or processes that the organization has been rooted in for years. This can be challenging to hurdle, Karen Myers, R.N. told H&HN in an executive interview.

Overall, operations managers can provide oversight and direction to a fragmented system, uniting disparate data and championing better processes, which is better for the health organization and its patients.

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