By Bill Eveloff

Finding new opportunities and solutions means coming at challenges from different perspectives. In this age of safety in the pandemic environment, that’s never been more true. As we look at what healthcare facilities will be like as we ultimately push back the novel coronavirus threat, we have a unique moment to consider learnings that we can pluck from other industries and apply to our own

For example, have you ever considered the deep parallels between the hospital and airline industries?

Before you shake your head, take a moment and hear us out. The safest places for individuals to be in both scenarios are in the deepest heart of that unique operation: We’re talking about the operating room for healthcare and the airplane for air transportation. Why? To start, they have limited access and the highest-quality filtration systems.

The greatest risk, in either case, is in the transitional space how people enter and exit, where people get from Point A to Point B. We’re talking about the airports – and the hospital entrances and hallways. Those areas are where people have the greatest interactions with other people, with greater risks of exposure to the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. That’s why airports introduced screened temperature checks and thermal imaging. Within a hospital, you also have to consider that many of your patients carry higher risks due to underlying conditions or an acute illness.

By removing people who don’t have to be on-site to do their jobs, you make sure only those who are needed to do the industry’s core functions are there – we’re already seeing that within both inpatient and outpatient medical facilities, reducing human-to-human interactions and the cost of valuable real estate. For an airline, that’s primarily the pilot and flight attendants, the baggage crews, the maintenance teams, and the security units. The lower the volume of individuals in a confined space, the lower the risk.

Learn from the Similarities

When you’re sitting on the airplane – where you’re increasingly required to follow safety protocols and mask up – you benefit from advanced HEPA filtration systems capable of capturing clusters of virus particles. It’s not an absolute science, but it’s a significant reduction in risk.

Similarly, in intensive care units and procedure spaces such as operating rooms, heightened safety protocols promote safety, and layers of sophisticated filtration systems catch and eliminate contaminants, down to a sterile environment in the limited surgical area. Protocols on how to enter and exit the room add in more layers of protection.

As we take a broader look at the airline industry, we also have witnessed amazing transformations in the user experience, starting with separate entries and exits – some even on different levels – and expanded nearby parking where friends and family can wait for a cellphone call from an arriving passenger. Strategic use of technology has reduced the in-person interactions required in the airport, as flight selections with transparent pricing, check-ins, boarding passes, flight change/delay notifications that allow passengers to selected alternatives are increasingly handled via digital apps and other tools. In this case, convenience equals safety.

We’ve seen some rapid adoption in the medical industry, as some providers now ask patients to check-in from outside, although these processes are still inconsistent and fragmented. It might be as low-tech as a phone call or text message to report arrival, but it can better streamline the process and eliminate a potential touchpoint. Patients – and their families, who largely aren’t permitted to accompany them inside now – can wait from the safety and comfort of their own vehicles until their provider is ready for the appointment.

Much like the TSA PreCheck program gathers and validates individual information to streamline a flyer’s friction at the airport and Global Entry minimizes less physical queuing in customs lines, using technology can allow patients to update medical records with a few keystrokes. Medical offices shouldn’t need to still hand off paper forms to update patient histories and sign health privacy documents.

Look for Other Opportunities

No industry has escaped the coronavirus without some impact that has changed its basic operating model. Here are some insights from other industries where hospitals could learn and adapt:

  • Financial Services: Almost overnight, banks and other financial institutions were able to send their phone agents home from tightly packed call centers with the telephony and other equipment to safely and securely – both from health and data positions – serve customers from the comfort of their kitchen tables. Within the healthcare setting, do your appointment bookers, insurance processors and other back-office employees need dedicated space within your facility? Or could those employees safely work from home or an off-site location, helping to minimize the number of people coming and going – and potentially raising exposure windows – to a venue that you could now restrict only to patients, providers and essential workers?
  • Restaurants: A full dining room is largely a memory right now. At the start of the pandemic, restaurant owners quickly shifted to delivery and curbside pick-up. But that didn’t mean the menu stayed the same. Would a delicate souffle truly handle a journey more than several yards from the kitchen? Not a chance. Think more affordable, family meals centered on comfort food instead, with special take-out menus. As a result, they’re redoing their offerings to meet customers where they are right now. The rapid expansion of telemedicine in the past five months shows that healthcare is open to rethinking how it delivers care and treatment; patients no longer have to be sitting in the exam room.
  • Hotels: Guests enrolled in loyalty programs can avoid long lines at the registration desk and go straight to their assigned rooms with virtual check-in and keyless access. They already have credit cards on file and automatically earn additional points with each stay. Those kinds of tools can help direct incoming patients to the right medical services when they arrive. It also creates better engagement as everyone at the medical office has the same information, reducing the need for patients to constantly repeat themselves.
  • Retail: Before the pandemic, grocery stores introduced self-checkout for efficiency; that’s now a no-engagement line for customers. Early in the pandemic, grocery stores introduced one-way aisles. That kept shoppers routed on designated paths, helping to restrict volume and reduce passing face-to-face. Consider how you direct patients through the medical office. Do they need to visit the check-out desk? Could you book their follow-up appointment, if needed, before they leave the examination room? Did you get their insurance and payment option during online check-in? If so, you can eliminate another high-risk touchpoint.

As devastating as the pandemic has been, it has inspired us to provide safer care. Providing healthcare is complex; however, health providers can still learn from innovations in other industries like those above and develop new ways to improve safety, performance, and service experience.

Channel strategy is one example. Think of a channel as a conduit (physical, media, telephonic, virtual, other) through which information, services and products flow to a customer or patient.   We can apply channel strategy to dissect the discrete activities encountered along the patient journey, identify those activities that can be better provided through alternative channels, and then re-design a more seamless multi-channel, patient journey – one that promotes safety, reduces waste, enhances the patient experience and fulfills our hard-working caregivers.

Why This Matters

Remember, our mission at Petra is to create better. That means raising our heads out of our healthcare facilities business – from planning to building – and looking in other places for fresh ideas that innovate what we do on a daily basis. We’ve already looked at how remobilizing in the medical construction business will come with change, but we all know that it’s still too early in the pandemic moment to determine how accurate any predictions might be.

Contact our team to learn about how to rethink your facility planning and operations, both to ensure safety and minimize COVID-19 risk – but also to bring smart innovation to your day-to-day functions. You also can use these insights to rethink your on-site employment needs, as well as to introduce the right building technology, filtration and people flow to meet your primary functions.

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