Paul Amberg

Money Health: Considering new imaging equipment? Read this first.

February 06, 2011
This report originally appeared in the February 2011 issue of DOTmed Business News

By Paul Amberg

It is becoming increasingly important for every hospital to reduce waste and inefficiencies so that they are prepared for the coming increase in the number of patients eligible for diagnostic imaging procedures. For example, a mid-size hospital in the Midwest, decided to undergo an optimization project. By focusing on patient flow and workflow redesign, the facility improved equipment utilization and staff satisfaction and estimates it has saved more than $1.4 million. When considering purchasing new equipment, thoughtful and wise decision makers need to keep in mind several factors about how radiology departments operate.

Utilization rate
An imaging department team is aware of how busy they are, but are they aware of how effectively devices are utilized? To grow capacity, the team must be precisely aware of the asset utilization rate for each device. Only after establishing the utilization rate can the department work to reduce inefficiencies of existing operations, and successfully implement new technologies.

To establish basic utilization metrics, multiply the number of procedures by the average time per procedure; divide that by the number of hours of availability and then multiply the result by 100. For example: (240 procedures x .33 hours / procedure) / 168 hours / week) x 100 = 47 percent. With this calculation, the department can better understand how efficiently it is using equipment.

For example, one project at the previously mentioned Midwest hospital calculated utilization rates of the radiology department’s CT devices. After identifying bottlenecks, the team increased use of a 64-slice scanner by 27 percent, or five patients daily. This improved capacity generates additional revenue for the network.

Patient flow
Process improvement techniques historically applied in industries such as manufacturing are now becoming popular in health systems. Lean and kaizen techniques are used to continually improve practices by streamlining tasks and eliminating waste from repetitive actions, resulting in maximum productivity. Using these methods, radiology departments can improve patient flow and increase the number of patients seen daily.

For the Midwest hospital, when analyzing patient flow patterns, the team found that significant delays occurred in the time after patients were placed into an exam room, right before receiving scans. Streamlining several scheduling processes reduced this delay and patient waiting time by 36 percent.

Optimized work flow
Facility design and optimizing workflow can also be powerful levers to improve quality and cost-effectiveness in patient care. If existing workflow patterns are suboptimal, there may be an opportunity to redesign a work space with a process-driven approach and simulation modeling. By focusing on the interaction of clinical workflow, technology, and facility design, imaging departments can plan for greater efficiency. A thorough understanding of how to best arrange space in the department’s existing location, can help to reduce unnecessary motions for clinicians and patients.

For the in-house hospital network, the CT and MR departments redesigned their workspace in a way that resulted in a reduction of 500 hours of wasted staff time. These lost hours represented a wasted opportunity to care for more patients. By reorganizing the layout of the department, this center reduced the number of steps technologists took daily by 62 percent. Evaluating and optimizing the arrangement of assets in the radiology department can save technologist and radiologist time and resources, and grow the rate at which patients are seen. In this way, optimizing workflow allows for the department to understand where they could most benefit from new equipment, and can steer strategic purchasing decisions.

This hospital network successfully realized costs savings in the millions by stepping back, analyzing inefficiencies and addressing issues of device utilization, patient flow and department layout. The organization has positioned itself to see a larger patient population, representing an additional revenue source for the network. When deciding how to approach the next purchase in the radiology department, the team is poised to make the best use of new technologies because processes are streamlined and highly efficient.

Paul Amberg is the senior manager, asset management solutions for GE Healthcare. He has worked for several large health systems in Florida and Wisconsin, serving as an administrative director for imaging services. Prior to his current role, he worked with GE Commercial Finance. Amberg originally trained as a nuclear medicine technologist. After earning his RT, he went on to earn BS and MBA degrees. He has been a member of AHRA since 1986.