By Devon Maresco
The United States’ healthcare system is a $8.45+ trillion industry—and it’s growing larger by the year. As demand creeps higher for everything from dentistry to oncology, more and more facilities are springing up across the country to meet these needs. In major metropolitan areas with larger populations and around-the-clock need, more facilities aren’t necessarily the solution. Better healthcare space utilization in existing facilities is.
The ability to use existing healthcare facilities better unlocks broad potential for meeting need, without the additional (tremendous) cost of building and staffing new buildings. Tapping into the fullest potential of a hospital or other healthcare facility rests heavily on the ability to orchestrate space around sometimes unpredictable demand. That starts with a fundamental understanding of capability and availability.
What is healthcare space utilization?
Space utilization is the concept of maximizing the utility of available space. If a hospital has 30 emergency room beds and the average occupancy of those beds is 15, it has a 50% utilization rate. And while this might sound poor, healthcare space utilization differs significantly from other types of utilization metrics. The reason? Much of hospital space is allocated on a contingency basis. The hospital may not use 30 emergency beds, but it needs 30 emergency beds based on the local census.
Healthcare space utilization goes beyond looking at usage as a static figure. To truly understand utilization takes a mind for all the variables that factor into demand. How many emergency room cases were there last quarter? Last year? Over the past five years? What’s the average time per bed occupied? What percentage of total beds are emergency beds? These factors and dozens more form the basis for space allocation, and also inform the standard for utilization.
While space utilization may be a measure of how often usable space is occupied, it’s also a measure of space efficiency in context. To gauge an accurate measure of both is an ongoing, ever-difficult task for healthcare facility managers.
The benefits of healthcare space utilization
Good utilization in hospitals and healthcare facilities comes down to contextualizing use within the parameters of the ecosystem. Facility administrators who can keep space allocation and utilization balanced help unlock significant benefits for everyone seeking or administering healthcare:
- Better access to spaces designed to support specific healthcare
- Specific, purposeful space planning and organization
- Smoother administration as the result of predictable facility usage
- Improved comfort and convenience for patients receiving treatment
- Better clinician support from well-equipped and accessible facilities
Ultimately, moderating space utilization comes down to ensuring facilities are available when they’re needed, to the people giving and receiving treatment. Emergency bed utilization may only be 50%, but that means there are several available to housing incoming critical patients from a multiple vehicle accident, for example. Even in non-emergent situations, utilization matters. You don’t want patients sitting for hours waiting on radiology to x-ray their broken arm—they need attention ASAP, from facilities that aren’t constantly at their limit.
How does healthcare space utilization software help?
The biggest unknown variable affecting healthcare facilities is demand. You never know when someone is going to need care—even with appointment scheduling. Utilization software helps account for this unknown by measuring the known variables, to make figuring out a buffer easier.
For example, if there are 10 beds in the chemotherapy wing, each with a utilization rate of 90%, it’s an indicator that more beds may be necessary. Similarly, if the utilization rate of four ultrasound rooms is only 20%, it may be an opportunity to repurpose one or more of them. Utilization software provides these figures to unlock the potential these insights provide.
It’s also important to consider utilization software from the perspective of tracking and monitoring trends, and aligning them with the business goals of a healthcare facility. Do you really need to build a new hemodialysis treatment center? Or, can you establish this environment in current facilities by consolidating underutilized space in the greater hematology wing? In this way, there are cost and treatment benefits rooted in decision-making, made possible by space utilization software insights.
Orchestrate a superior approach to patient care
Healthcare space utilization isn’t just about making use of facilities to avoid the prospect of building and staffing. Above anything else, it’s about being able to deliver superior patient care and a healing experience for the people relying on those facilities. Anticipating demand isn’t always easy, which means the path to better space utilization starts through space governance.
In the modern era, healthcare space utilization software is becoming a must-have, crucial part of the facility management approach. It allows hospitals to be agile with their space and adaptable to the needs of the census. Moreover, it allows hospitals to understand how efficient they’re being, so they can explore new opportunities to provide better caregiving solutions. The result is better use of existing facilities, which helps avoid adding even more costs to an $8.45+ trillion industry that’s already the ire of many.