Delivering pediatric care to patients has unique challenges, particularly during a pandemic. Experts still don’t know exactly how COVID-19 impacts children, organizations are struggling to schedule primary care visits because the pandemic put non-essential care on hold, and communicating health information to a child through a parent or guardian can be difficult for providers.
Despite the above challenges, health systems can leverage more comprehensive data to improve care delivery to pediatric patients while also increasing profit margins. Healthcare leaders and providers often turn to outcomes data, forgetting about other data-driven methods to improve care. While outcomes are vital to understanding a health system’s quality of pediatric care, organizations can also leverage operational data to improve care through optimizing hospital space, improving patient scheduling, and implementing virtual care options.
The following three operational improvement opportunities improve access to pediatric care, allowing children to get the right care without delay—even in a pandemic—and allow the health system to continue treating patients and in turn, generating revenue.
Organizations can apply three data-driven strategies to optimize pediatric care and increase profits:
Pediatric patient access is a common challenge for health systems. In response, increased access through better space utilization allows health systems to promote better pediatric health, prevent diseases among children, and reverse harmful conditions early in their course. Using specific data, including appointment data from the EHR, room availability, and optimal room utilization, allows healthcare leaders to assess how their health system currently uses its available space and highlights opportunities to improve space usage to see more patients. This information is also valuable when health systems are trying to treat pediatric patients while adhering to social distancing guidelines. This allows each floor to maximize its space without compromising COVID-19 safety guidelines.
Texas Children’s Hospital, a not-for-profit healthcare organization, created an analytics application to better understand its space needs and availability. The space utilization data allowed leaders to reallocate exam rooms to increase clinic offerings. Texas Children’s also involved pediatric providers in the space utilization project. That collaboration produced a feature that allowed providers to submit requests to use available space. The improvements increased visibility around room utilization and demand, leading to approximately 550 additional pediatric appointments.
Because health systems generate revenue when they deliver care to patients, the more patients they schedule, the more profits they earn. Delayed pediatric appointments due to cumbersome scheduling processes can lead to lost revenue and worse health for children. These scheduling difficulties often stem from a lack of standardized processes across departments. For example, scheduling an appointment with a pediatric cardiologist might have a different process than scheduling an appointment with a pediatrician.
Health systems can overcome inconsistent scheduling practices by first gathering data to help them understand gaps in scheduling processes across the system. Needed information includes referrals, patient wait times, and patient capacity by department. With insight into scheduling practices, health systems can identify opportunities to standardize processes to promote a consistent pediatric patient experience.
One health system used an analytics accelerator (e.g., the Health Catalyst Practice Management: Patient Access) to assess patient scheduling. Analytics insight revealed 60 different scheduling processes and long wait times (up to eight months in some departments). With access to comprehensive scheduling data, the organization standardized appointment scheduling systemwide, adding more than 53,000 pediatric appointments annually and increasing revenue by $8.3 million.
COVID-19 pressured health systems to find new ways to deliver care to children. For many organizations, this meant turning to technology. The telehealth challenges (e.g., infrastructure and technology setup) were magnified in pediatric care because children need approval from their parent or guardian to participate in a virtual visit, and most likely need help starting the visit (e.g., logging in, providing insurance information, etc.), depending on the child’s age. However, with relevant data, healthcare leaders could understand telehealth’s effectiveness and continue to deliver care to pediatric patients. Telehealth data, including daily visit volume, visit type (e.g., telephone or video) by service line, and the number of available and scheduled visits each day, allows leaders to assess the success of virtual care programs and adapt them as needed.
One health system addressed these telehealth growing pains with access to department-level data about pediatric patient needs and volume. With comprehensive data, the organization compared patient visits before and after telehealth to see where it needed to implement virtual care options to increase access. The team used this insight to implement pediatric workflow changes and add a dedicated COVID-19 nurse triage line. The COVID-19-specific line freed department scheduling resources to focus on setting up virtual visits instead of answering COVID-19-related questions. Using data to implement virtual care allowed the organization to maintain pre-COVID-19 patient visit volumes and offer pediatric virtual care across 64 specialties.
Health systems are under pressure to deliver the best care to kids, no matter the circumstances (e.g., a pandemic). Delivering high-quality pediatric care is possible despite challenges if health systems and care teams have supporting data. This analytics insight reveals opportunities for leaders to implement operational tactics—maximizing space, improving scheduling, and implementing virtual care—to reach their pediatric populations and continue generating profits.
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