The healthcare industry is in the middle of deep digital transformation across every aspect of the patient journey. Technology has always been important in healthcare, but COVID-19 has accelerated advancements, improving the way care is delivered. The pandemic also increased patient interest in being more involved in their healthcare decisions. And when patients are more involved, they are typically more satisfied with their experience and have better health outcomes. From remote patient monitoring technology that allows patients to track biometric data at home and report that information to their doctors to precision medicine that is tailoring healthcare to a patient’s specific genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors, technology is proving to improve the patient experience.
Advanced technologies have also made their way into the surgical suite. These “smart ORs” contain next-generation physical equipment connected by software integrations that communicate with each other around the procedure. The benefit of leveraging these technologies to improve every part of procedural processes is undeniable. As surgical and interventional suites become even more advanced, the adoption of new technologies will also accelerate. The result? A reduction in administrative burden will allow clinicians to focus on what’s most important: treating the patient and delivering the best outcomes.
Here are five things all smart ORs should have or do to optimize efficiency and patient outcomes.
1. Live Streaming Compatibility
In a smart OR, not only is the entire room connected from within – it should also be able to connect those in the room to key opinion leaders (KOLs) or trainees that are in other locations to facilitate better education and collaboration. This is achieved through live streaming. Medical device representatives, clinical specialists and physician fellows, among others, began embracing this technology in the OR prior to 2020, but the pandemic made this feature an imperative in hospitals across the country. The ability to connect with more people supporting care delivery and sharing expertise is paramount to helping decrease costly and potentially harmful procedural variability and improving patient outcomes across the board.
For physicians who are learning and training on a new procedure, live-streamed cases provide them with a front-row seat in real-time, no matter where they are in the world. Previously, these fellows would have to take time away from their practices and travel to wherever the expert surgeon they needed to train with worked. This keeps physicians away from their own practices resulting in lost revenue, patients going untreated and a general interruption to physicians’ personal lives. Additionally, these fellows are often asked to stand in the back of the procedure room with a limited view of how the surgeon is performing the procedure. With smart OR technology like digital case support, physician trainees can join a live stream of a procedure and follow along with a guided, intraprocedural playbook of best practices. This digital approach allows trainees to better engage with what is happening in the OR, including two-way communication with proctors to ask questions and gain deeper insights throughout.
For medical device representatives, live streaming curbs the need for constant travel between the hospitals they work with, reducing the cost and complexity of adopting new procedures. The ability to be in more places in less time allows device representatives to continue sharing best practices and elevating their support to physicians and care teams so that clinicians can increase efficiency and reduce case variability. Across these use cases, high-fidelity, easy-to-use live streaming is better for surgical training and product adoption, enabling learning and collaboration that democratizes access to the latest care which ultimately benefits patients.
2. Improve Surgical Teams’ Workflow
Prior to the start of surgery, and even during the procedure itself, the OR can be a chaotic environment as clinicians and medical device representatives prepare for the forthcoming procedure. Smart OR tools and technologies are meant to help optimize patient care by creating a more efficient and effective surgical workflow that reduces procedural variability. Imagine you are a new scrub nurse assisting on your first procedure. If there was a technology that could allow you to familiarize yourself with best practices and the procedural workflow in a digital format prior to the surgery and help ensure you pulled all the required surgical instruments in advance, you would have greater confidence heading into the procedure. Not only were you able to gather the supplies in a timely fashion, but you also know when to hand each tool to the surgeon during the procedure, helping clinicians in their quest to deliver the highest quality of care and, in turn, improve patient outcomes.
3. Automated Administrative Tasks
In a smart OR, all administrative tasks should be automated so that the only pre-op, intra-op, or post-op work performed by the team is meant to accomplish one goal: achieving the best outcome for the patient. This is especially true as it relates to surgical workflows, which are still made up of mostly manual tasks and undocumented, institutionalized knowledge.
One area that benefits from automation in the OR is the surgical supply chain. Point-of-use supply chain management solutions provide clinicians with automation tools so they can spend less time managing inventory and more time caring for patients. This makes a scrub nurse’s job easier when they gather supplies from the OR storage room before a procedure. When a medical representative arrives with the device needed for the operation, the nurse can scan the device with a point-of-use scanner, which will make sure that the device’s unique device identification (UDI) gets into the hospital’s EHR and back office so that a requisition and purchase order can be created. This advancement means the provider team does not need to track down the representative after the operation.
Additionally, automated PHI masking functionality that harnesses artificial intelligence offers another opportunity. This technology not only helps conceal protected health information (PHI) during a live stream of a procedure to protect the patient’s information in real-time, but it also enables medical device organizations to avoid the post-procedure task of redacting PHI via video editing software when using the live streamed procedure for training, education or commercial initiatives.
4. Easy Set-Up and Understanding of Tools
For smart ORs to deliver on the value of improving surgical workflow and reducing procedural variability, the tools and technology must be easy to access and use for all stakeholders. If the setup is complex or the learning curve steep, surgical team members may be more resistant to adding those additional steps into their already-busy pre-op routines, and overall adoption of the smart technology will be slower. Adding technology to smart ORs almost always means adding something new to an existing workflow, so the more familiar the experience is to a user, the smoother the adoption will be.
Additionally, the less space smart technology occupies the better. ORs are small compared to the amount of equipment and number of people that must have access to perform a procedure. Tools, like digital case support technology, that can reduce the number of non-essential personnel in the OR by remotely live-streaming cases reduce the risk of contamination in the sterile field and leaves more room for the surgical team to safely operate. It also provides a better vantage point for those who are intending to observe the procedure, further contributing to a higher quality training experience.
5. Complementary Technology
Technology in the OR should enable clinicians to work smarter, not harder. As previously mentioned, if the setup is too complex, surgical team members will be more resistant to adopting those additional steps into their already-busy pre-op routines. The same goes for technological interoperability. When smart OR hardware and software is built for compatibility, while not presenting friction for the end-user, all stakeholders in the OR – from surgeons to scrub nurses to the patient – win. Cloud-based and device-agnostic technologies, particularly software-as-a-service (SaaS) platforms that offer secure, remote access via smartphones and tablets, are also preferred.
Digital case support platforms are a good example of this as they are most effectively used in conjunction with other smart OR tools such as robotic technology. Dr. Vasili Karas, an orthopedic surgeon in the Chicago area, believes that robotic-assisted total joint procedures are the way of the future for patients who qualify. Yet this new technology can introduce new, unfamiliar steps to an already complex workflow. By leveraging digital case support during his procedures that use robotic assistance, Dr. Karas can help ensure his team is on the same step at the same time, working in unison. This smart technology is also helping him train other physicians interested in onboarding innovative robotic orthopedic technology in their own practices.
The benefits of a smart OR are endless and the technology powering them continues to get smarter. As digital health transformation continues to play a growing role in areas like clinical workflows, data collection, patient care and more, healthcare providers and suppliers have an opportunity to work together to ensure the OR is a safe, functional and efficient environment to achieve better patient outcomes.
About Ryan Padilla
Ryan Padilla is the Executive Director at Explorer, a GHX company. He is an accomplished leader with 20 years of consulting and industry experience solving challenges in corporate strategy and business process optimization.