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Automation in Hospitals: Why is it "taboo" in many?

Not long ago, the word “automation” was taboo throughout the hospital industry.

Hospitals were under increasing criticism for discharging patients prematurely and “automation” conjured up images of assembly line medicine among the general population and healthcare employees alike. The hospital culture argued that “each case is different” and “these are human beings, not cars.”

While every case may indeed be different from others in the same category, the processes surrounding the treatment of each case have some similarities. Patients have to be checked in, registered, assigned a room, tested, treated, stepped down, healed, tested again and finally discharged, often to another facility. At most hospitals, those processes include many, many manual tasks related to the movement of those patients through the institution. A large majority of those tasks can now be automated via computer software and real-time location technology.

 

Furthermore, automating capacity management has been proven to make significant contributions to a hospital’s bottom line as well as improving care delivery and patient safety.  Hospitals have never had a more pressing economic imperative for hospital margin improvement, but the culture must change regarding automation if its full benefits are to be realized.

And, to some degree, it is changing. Consider the fact that 80 percent of the “Best Hospitals in America,” as ranked by U.S. News & World Report, use TeleTracking’s capacity management technology, as well as two- thirds of the Magnet hospitals in the nation. A large majority of the “Top 100 Hospitals” named by Becker’s and Thompson-Reuters also use our technology.

But, in total, only 20 percent of the nation’s 5,000 plus hospitals have automated their physical operations. Some resisters cite cost, but the reality is that a typical, enterprise-wide implementation of TeleTracking’s real-time capacity management system is a small fraction of what it would cost to install Electronic Medical Records. Yet the ROI is through the roof by comparison.

So is culture still the barrier? Are hospital professionals hung up on the “industrial” halo of automation? Is every case so different that the pathway through treatment can’t become automatic?

DaVinci SurgeryTry that last argument on the people in government and the insurance industry who are setting reimbursement rates. They’ve been doing their best to classify all cases of a certain type into specific payment ranges. Those tightly calibrated rates are among the reasons more than half of U.S. hospitals are losing money.

And if automation is such a taboo among the Luddites, I wonder what they’re saying about the da Vinci Surgical Robot?

 

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