Tennessee’s largest university has automated its systems in its medical center after more than a decade of attempts to improve its operational efficiency to solve bottlenecks in patient flow.

Devin Fladd, process engineering manager at the hospital, explained that the University of Tennessee Medical Center (UTMC) has leveraged automation to address ongoing challenges in workforce management, patient flow, and real-time knowledge and understanding of unique medical situations.

“Through many years of improvement, we were at a point where we needed new technology to get us to the next level,” said Fladd.

UTMC had plans in place to automate its systems at the end of 2020 – just months before the East Tenn. hospital became overwhelmed with the first COVID-19 surge. By automating its systems, healthcare workers were able to see which patients were positive and which were pending radiology, environmental services, and patient transport – other team members knew patients’ status in real-time.

“[Before] implementation, transport and [environmental science personnel] were dispatched from manual lists,” Fladd said. “A phone call was required to request transport. Oftentimes, the line was busy. We wouldn’t have been able to sustain that way.”

UTMC paired enterprise dashboards with automated bed management tools to further its efforts to solve ongoing operational issues.

“It has enabled us to enhance productivity and capture data that we can use to continually improve our operations,” Fladd said.

He added: “With the competitiveness in the healthcare market today, we must look at how to better use technology to automate human processes, because we know there’s a huge demand for people and not a huge supply.”

The hospital experienced over half a reduction – 51 percent – in full-time equivalent daily hours worked in the logistics center. Specifically, they saw a significant drop from 116 to 56 hours per day after redesigning and automating their operation processes.

“Healthcare organizations know the importance of providing timely patient care,” Fladd said. “The ability to do so relies heavily on the secure and timely flow of information and being able to optimize that to make the right decisions at the right time.

UTMC continues to evolve by adopting emerging technologies and modernizing its systems, Fladd said.

“It has become part of our culture and an expectation for senior leadership. By using the same system for capacity management, we have standardized the data structure, which helps us use data to guide us to future needs,” he continued.