RTLS Helps Surgery Center ‘Work Smarter’

RTLS Helps Surgery Center 'Work Smarter'

Versus Technology software helps Northwest Michigan Surgery Center meet its goals.

by Matt Skoufalos

At best, a surgery center can be described as "controlled chaos," said Brett McGreaham. "There's so much going on, so many people moving through at such a high pace, that bringing any type of stability or automation into that process is going to help save time," McGreaham said.

As Senior Product Manager of Healthcare Innovations for Versus Technology of Traverse City, Michigan, McGreaham is in the business of trying to do just that. Versus Advantages OR is a combination hardware-software solution that enables surgery centers to shave valuable minutes off their days by more closely managing staff resources.

Effectively, every member of the team who interacts with a patient, from nursing staff to surgeons to assistants, carries an RFID badge that tracks his or her movements within the facility. It helps the surgery center keep tabs on what staff needs to be where, when and for how long. The system keeps supervisors apprised of milestones in the transition from intake to release, and ultimately can lead to a smoother patient experience.

"What our product aims to do is help facilities and managers and staff become more efficient, more safe in the care that they're giving, [and to] have more time to focus on the patient rather than focusing on process or non-value-added tasks," McGreaham said.

"When you're working with a high-volume facility, saving multiple minutes on many patients saves a lot of time," he said. "It helps drive staff in an effective and efficient manner without burning them out. If we can ease up some of that pressure, it ultimately reflects back on the patient."

"We're so busy that we utilize everything to its utmost capacity... We truly embrace the whole idea of working smarter, not harder."

For proof of concept, Versus Technology needed look no further than its own backyard, to the Northwest Michigan Surgery Center (NMSC), which is also located in Traverse City. In 2012, Versus "mapped out [NMSC's] entire process," McGreaham said, and then built in automated clinician alerts that afford "real-time environmental situational awareness," enabling staff to "get that cadence of the day and control that chaos that they're so used to seeing."

"It's not only monitoring locations, it's monitoring interactions," McGreaham said. "Has the anesthesiologist been with the patient? How long has the patient been in the OR? [It's about] placing some business intelligence around the information and giving historical information for benchmarking and bottlenecks."

Within three years, NMSC had shaved an average of 5 to 10 minutes off the time patients were spending in post-operative settings, with 13 minutes coming off post-op time after hand surgeries. NMSC also lowered the overall length of stay for cataract surgery patients by four minutes, and by 12 minutes for patients underdoing gastrointestinal procedures. Those numbers are compared further against national benchmarks, enabling NMSC decision-makers to identify details associated with those procedures that don't hit the mark, whether for complexity of case, patient need, system process or any other variable.

"It's several minutes per procedure, which then allows you either to add another procedure that day or allows you to re-staff," McGreaham said.
In a facility that averages 100 procedures a day, from knee arthroscopies to general surgery, that level of insight draws significant interest from leadership.

"We're so busy that we utilize everything to its utmost capacity," said NMSC CEO LoAnn Vande Leest. "We truly embrace the whole idea of working smarter, not harder."

NMSC initially adopted Advantages OR to help limit the number of overhead pages and phone calls broadcast throughout the center, and Vande Leest still numbers that among the chief triumphs of the system.

"Everybody was in the know without having a behemoth amount of overhead pages and phone calls," she said. "That's where the savings occurred. You can look on your computer and see where everybody is at any given minute."

Doctors at the facility "never bought into the technology," and still require an overhead page to be tracked down, but Vande Leest considers that a "very minor" circumstance in comparison with having built such a comprehensive tracking system.

"We know where our patients are at all times, and that's what's important," she said. "Communication in every setting that I've ever been in is key. It's really the patient flow and knowing where your staff members are."

Beyond the initial installation, NMSC has added extra screens that have taken the place of whiteboards in outlining staffing assignments, which Vande Leest described as a time-saving convenience. In the pre-operative room, a similar screen names physicians, their nurses, their specialties, and their locations. Versus Advantages OR is integrated with Vision, the NMSC electronic health record system, which allows anyone waiting for the patient to "watch them go all the way through without having to look at the screen," Vande Leest said.

But instead of only relying on the intelligence provided by the Versus system for the use of NMSC staff, developers at the center have built upon its original functionality to abstract additional information that can be used to keep patients' loved ones in the loop. With a slight tweak, the same program that transmits staff whereabouts can also broadcast patient information in a HIPAA-compliant fashion (first name, last initial) so that family members can follow along with the procedures in real-time. Anyone who's offsite or out of town can check in remotely via an app.

"We've given it a few extra legs to walk with," Vande Leest said. "It's really the technology and what we've built on it, because that's what we do here."

The efficiencies driven through the adoption of Advantages OR haven't only improved processes, patient throughput, and family communication, Vande Leest said, but they've allowed NMSC to reassign one of its two unit coordinators to patient scheduling, effectively saving the cost of an entire full-time employee.

"It's better efficiency," Vande Leest said. "She knew the docs, knew the procedures, and she had a good knowledge base."

In addition to functioning in surgical centers, McGreaham said Versus software and hardware functions in asset management, clinical, oncological, and acute-care functions.

"We're driving process improvement and visibility for staff for internal matters, but that information can be used in other ways," he said.