Healthcare News & Insights

Big data & healthcare facilities management: What hospital c-suites need to know

Fixed assets, such as buildings, infrastructure and equipment, are often a hospital’s largest ones. The inventory, condition and reliability of these assets, however, remains elusive for many hospital executives. Capital investment planning is based on limited info, leading to an often inefficient allocation of scarce capital resources. Will these assets live up to their expected performance? In this guest post, Matthias Ebinger, director of digital solutions at a systems integrator for capital projects, provides the answer to this question – leveraging and providing structure to “big data” in the hospital’s facilities management and real estate departments.

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While big data has already changed the delivery of medicine, its use in support services is only now gaining momentum. Facilities engineers are embracing a new generation of software running on mobile platforms. This software makes management data available in real time. It enables hospital systems to develop standardized approaches to manage large building portfolios, streamline regulatory compliance, and incorporate asset condition tracking and financial planning into existing management processes.

A large health system in the Northwest is currently implementing a process that allows their engineering field personnel to flag critical findings on their mobile devices such that it gets the attention of the planning team. Upon review and, if necessary, the planning team flags the issue as requiring funding, which then moves it to the agenda of the infrastructure steering committee. Critical items are now visible and are prioritized based on impact to patient care.

Facilitating regulatory compliance

For healthcare facilities, regulatory compliance is highly complex. As it evolves, it increasingly requires the use of well-implemented software packages, along with standardized data taxonomies and classifications. The hospital’s space repository, for example, is used by many stakeholders in the organization – the finance team manages reimbursements, insurance costs and grants, the regulatory department ensures compliance, engineering tracks operations and maintenance requirements, and the IT department uses it in several corporate and clinical systems. This data set can and should be maintained once and updated reliably as soon as a construction project is complete.

Cost and risk management, capital planning

Leading organizations are merging data from the hospital engineering systems with operational data from corporate systems. These merged data sets allow organizations to identify previously invisible savings opportunities in energy management and the purchasing of bundled services and commodities. At the same time, these datasets are becoming important inputs for clinicians, facilities operators and planners to assess the risk inherent in their built environment, to formulate meaningful risk mitigation programs and to identify timing and scope of capital renewals.

Unlocking the value of data healthcare facilities management

In many healthcare systems, data still isn’t embraced as a strategic resource for supporting services such as facilities management. Where data governance isn’t implemented in a strategic way, it becomes a response to prescriptive regulatory requirements. After findings are reported by regulators, organizations scramble to establish processes in their “evidence of compliance.” In almost all cases, these urgently compiled documents produce fragmented, poorly coordinated solutions. Over time, these solutions add up to an incoherent patchwork of internal policies and software configurations that become an obstacle constraining streamlined and efficient work processes.

Organizational design

Many of today’s healthcare facilities engineers have been active in this area for a long time and are reaching the end of an impactful career. It is important to capture and codify their knowledge in effective datasets and streamlined processes. To do so, organizations invest into expertise to build data governance teams for facilities management.

Healthcare systems typically have strong data governance structures for their clinical and corporate data. These teams, however, are unfamiliar with the business problems of asset management within facilities management and clinical engineering. Leading hospital systems are pooling system business analysts and software specialists from centers of excellence within facilities management. These in-house teams collaborate with corporate data governance and corporate data security teams in the ITS department and translate their requirements into the day-to-day operations of facilities management.

Taking the first step

It’s important to recognize that the development of data governance structures and management systems in facilities management requires time and stamina.

The first step is to develop a data governance structure within the facilities management department. In addition to pooling already existing software analysts, hospitals are hiring combined expertise in facilities management and IT to oversee the development of “big data.”

These in-house teams then manage the development of reliable space and asset inventories. This is a significant effort and, in all cases, requires external support of qualified personnel. Organizations must be prepared to make a significant investment in data standardization and collection.

Once reliable inventories are in place, existing processes are re-engineered to align with it. For example, the inspections, testing and maintenance program of the engineering department must be tracked against this asset inventory, even if the work is performed by outsourced entities. This will build a data set describing the performance of existing assets. This data allows operators to optimize system performance and increase system reliability, and it gives capital planners to pinpoint exactly where scarce capital funds have the biggest impact.

Looking ahead

Mobile technology is proving to bring big data to facilities management. Leading organizations are recognizing the emerging opportunities and are investing in building in-house teams to lead digital transformations in facilities management. These teams will improve the organization’s ability to mitigate facilities risk, reduce operational cost and improve the impact of capital investments in the years ahead.

Matthias Ebinger, director of digital solutions at Enstoa, advises healthcare systems to optimize and digitize facilities and real estate processes. He previously led the process engineering team within the FM department of one of the country’s largest hospital systems and is an assistant visiting professor in the Facilities Management M.S. Program at Pratt Institute.  

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