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Is Healthcare Struggling with Volume or Efficiency?

The healthcare sector is grappling with a seemingly insurmountable challenge: the continuous and increasing influx of patients.

But is this truly a problem of volume?

healthcare struggling with large volumes or efficiency

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Let's consider an analogy. Imagine a tap with water continuously pouring out but the sink isn't draining. The solutions seem limited. You can try to close the tap, but in healthcare terms, this would equate to preventing patients from getting the specialist care they need and even if some patients are turned away—or 'discharged'—without an appropriate review, they will inevitably seek care elsewhere. So closing the tap isn't a viable solution.

What about using a bucket to scoop the water out and pour it somewhere else (for example, outsourcing care)? It's not a great idea either; you can't keep doing that forever as it's costly and inefficient.

The best solution is to fix the drain; make it so that the water goes down as fast as it comes in.

This is precisely what the healthcare sector needs. It's not about reducing the volume of patients coming through the front door, as that isn't feasible. Nor is it about diverting the patient load elsewhere, as that isn't sustainable. The focus should be on improving efficiency.

The issue at hand isn't a volume problem; it's a process efficiency problem.

The current processes in healthcare were not built to support what healthcare is facing today. So what healthcare must do is replace its outdated drainage system, which in this context refers to its clinical and operational processes.

A great way to achieve this is through digital solutions designed for that purpose. These solutions can create a 'traffic light' system for healthcare to manage volumes. This system enhances providers' ability to prioritise patients effectively, distinguishing between those who require immediate attention and those who can wait.

Importantly, it helps to identify patients based on the complexity of their cases. It allows for streamlined handling of simpler cases that are healthy and ready for procedures like surgery, while allocating appropriate resources to manage more complex cases.

And it also ensures that all patients get the appropriate care, not just those with more serious conditions. For example, simply excluding the 'simpler' cases, such as discharging a patient because they 'do not have cancer', is not enough. These cases should be equally reviewed and given a diagnosis and a plan. They may not have cancer, but they still require care. So that is where the 'traffic light' system comes into its own: triaging those cases for a shorter review or providing them with diagnosis-specific information for self-management.

For example, our cloud-based software, Pathpoint eDerma, has helped healthcare organisations improve clinic efficiency and capacity for patients with suspected skin cancer. One NHS Trust was dealing with huge numbers of patients waiting more than two months for a diagnosis. eDerma helped optimise their care pathway, improving process efficiency rather than attempting to reduce their incoming volume. And, by using eDerma, this Trust can now diagnose 100% of their patients within the 28-day Faster Diagnostic Standard. The volumes have not changed, but the outcomes have—simply by digitally optimising processes for increased efficiency.

Truly effective digital solutions for clinical processes will provide healthcare providers with robust processes and a strong foundation that they can build upon, such as by adding AI to improve efficiency even further.

So healthcare's solution lies not in reducing the volume of patients or diverting them elsewhere—this does a disservice to both the patients and the system—but in enhancing the efficiency of clinical and operational processes. Once this is achieved, the system will be future-proof, capable of handling the current patient load and hopefully any potential increases, while also providing a foundation for continuous service improvement.


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