On a Sunday evening in March 2020, Matthew Metsker, division director of Virginia Mason Franciscan Health’s mission control and virtual health services, was winding down at home when he got a call from the health system’s disaster preparedness manager. The first round of COVID-19 patients had begun to seek care at the Seattle-based organization, and they were coming in faster than expected. Some would need negative air pressure rooms, which seal off infectious individuals from the rest of the hospital.
Metsker booted up the health system’s Mission Control Command Center remotely, giving him full access to its number of sterilized negative air pressure rooms.
“I just pulled up the analytic tiles, and I said we have 42 rooms,” he said. “And I could tell if they were clean or dirty.”
The command center’s “tiles”—screens that include a panoramic view of bed availability throughout Virginia Mason Franciscan Health—allowed decision-makers to strategize about where to place the incoming COVID-19 patients without having to call each hospital individually.
The center is among the many data-driven tools health systems across the U.S. have used to address operations challenges exacerbated by the pandemic. By drawing information from electronic health records, employee schedules and other sources, analytics technology can offer real-time and predictive insight into patient numbers and staffing needs.
The logistical snarls the tools help untangle are not limited to the public health emergency. Cross-team collaboration, executive support and long-term monitoring will be vital for provider organizations seeking to harness their data effectively.
“Operations translate into clinical outcomes,” Metsker said. “If we don’t prepare well, patients are going to experience delays in care and suboptimal services.”
A team effort
Deploying analytics tools is a calculated process. If it’s not guided by a three-way relationship between data scientists who know the numbers, software engineers who know the technology and clinicians who know the medicine, “you’re going to solve the wrong problem,” said Dr. Ford Parsons, medical director of clinical analytics at Renton, Washington-based Providence. The system uses analytics software to streamline workflows and minimize overcrowding.
“You need that full spectrum. And these people need to be friends with each other,” he said. “They need to work as a team. They can’t just work in silos. They have to learn how to speak each other’s languages.”
Providence makes this possible by assembling teams of data and clinical experts who share information throughout the technology development process. In addition, the health system pooled front-line providers, data scientists and clinical leaders into a cross-departmental steering committee to raise awareness about ongoing projects among individuals who might not otherwise interact.