With more than 45 million confirmed cases and more than 1 million deaths at the time of writing, the coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc in virtually all countries around the world. Beyond grinding day-to-day life to a halt, the ongoing situation has prompted a reckoning throughout the health care industry, which is facing unprecedented challenges to ensure it can provide care, improve quality, and increase patient access, all while keeping its workers safe and balance costs. COVID-19 emphasised key challenges in service management of the elective pathway, and addressing these challenges will require a transformation, as healthcare players adopt to the new normal.
In my opinion many hospitals have been struggling in the area of demand and capacity planning to meet waiting time standard – even before COVID-19 turned into a pandemic. In recent months, the pandemic has only turned additional spotlights on the problem, revealing inefficiencies, lack of resources, and capacity management in need of optimisation. As the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases grew, waiting lists grew longer and longer, as hospitals operated at reduced capacity to accommodate patients suffering from COVID-19, further increasing the capacity constraints for clinical teams in other parts of the hospital. As a result, the health of patients who had to wait longer for their treatment was negatively affected, and they – understandably – grew anxious and frustrated, as even estimates for how long they would need to wait were hard to come by.
As most of the world is looking into a phased return of elective procedures, it is becoming clear that a transformation will be necessary.Personally, I believe that hospitals need to optimise the demand and capacity planning to recover from COVID-19 challenges and sustain the hospital department in the medium- and long term. As there are a multitude of individual configurations, objectives, and other factors, a one-size-fits-all approach is of very limited use. Hospitals should aim at getting detailed insights to understand the impact of capacity on department performance to develop the best capacity strategy to address their elective waiting list. To build such a capacity strategy roadmap, data modelling tools and scenario planning techniques are the basis and enable teams to navigate and manage capacity to achieve their goals. As demand and capacity planning by its very nature necessitates a holistic approach, the findings can be applied to all hospital departments.
If you are assessing the current status of your demand and capacity planning, here are some questions to consider:
• Does your hospital have a capacity plan to achieve a desired waiting list position post COVID crisis?
• What are the main drivers influencing the current capacity and waiting list position?
• Which stakeholders need to be involved to build consensus on key service priorities?
• Am I able to make informed decisions or am I lacking data?
• Can I concretely measure the impact of the capacity plan on service performance?
The implementation of data-driven demand and capacity planning will not only free up your available resources to adjust to changing circumstances but will help provide much needed reassurance to patients re-engaging with their healthcare providers.