25 August 2016

Why hospitals need to innovate

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It’s official: Our hospitals are facing more demand than they can handle.

In some parts of Melbourne, emergency departments are “being deluged with hundreds more patients than they were at the same time last year,” according to The Age. State-wide, Victorian hospitals treated 400, 985 patients between April and June. This is 15, 581 more than were treated in the same period last year. Some hospitals experienced a 15 per cent increase in patient intake.

The story is no different in Tasmania. At the Royal Hobart and Launceston General hospitals, elective surgeries have been cancelled due to “bed block”, the ABC reported. Neroli Ellis, Australian Nursing Federation secretary, said patients were facing unacceptable waiting times for treatment.

"Our hospitals have got huge bed block and huge hours, or days waiting in emergency departments," Ms Ellis said.

"The bottom line is we haven't got enough capacity to meet our needs in Tasmania, and that means we need to open more beds.”

This isn’t a surprise to me, but it confirms what I suspected. A few months ago I conducted extensive research into Australia’s hospital system. One of the key considerations for hospital managers was Australia’s rapidly growing and ageing population. Hospitals have been bracing themselves for inevitably increased demand on their services but I didn’t see the actual numbers until now.

Increased and often unmanageable demand creates a number of issues for hospitals. The Tasmanian example shows that patient wait time goes up as the hospital resources available are quickly outweighed by the number of people requiring access to them.

There are other implications, including the amount of time doctors and nurses are able to spend with patients as the number of patients grow. Fiona Stanley Hospital and several other major hospitals in Perth performed poorly on patient and staff satisfaction surveys, according to Perth Now. Notably, the score for length of time doctors spent with patients feel 6 per cent below target.

Dr Nikki Stamp, a heart surgeon, wrote on the Huffington Post about the tragic errors that take place in hospitals, including those leading to the death of patients. Dr Stamp listed a number of factors behind these errors including “time, systems, equipment or resources”. It’s not much of a stretch to make the connection between Dr Stamp’s observations and increased strain on hospital staff brought about by a growing number of patients.

South Metropolitan Health Service chief executive Dr Robyn Lawrence put it best when he said “the hospitals’ executive and I have significant work to do”. He’s not wrong: All hospital executives and managers have to work hard to keep up with increased patient flow. They need to look for new systems and innovative approaches, otherwise the problems of wait times and inflated costs will only grow.

To contribute to this important conversation, Akolade has put together the Innovations in Hospital Management Forum, to be held 18-20 October in Sydney.

It’s the only conference on the market bringing together nothing but executive-level hospital leaders.

The event presents case studies on some of the most forward-thinking and transformational hospital projects in Australia, including Central Adelaide Local Health Network chief executive Julia Squire speaking about SA Health’s Transforming Health Agenda and the New Royal Adelaide Hospital development. Emma Clarke, Director of Innovation and Redesign at Western Sydney Local Health District will present on the innovative work being done at some of Sydney busiest hospitals, Westmead and Blacktown.

We know hospitals are facing problems that need solutions. The Innovations in Hospital Management Forum is the event to attend to hear about the solutions that work. I look forward to seeing you there.

Christian Berechree joined Akolade’s production team in May 2016. He has a Bachelor of Media and Music and a Masters in Journalism.

Christian is a musical theatre geek and a new dad, and he’ll happily spend hours telling you about either or both of those things.

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