"You can’t do this kind of planning with pencil and paper"
Prof. Alexander Hübner and Prof. Clemens Thielen are conducting research on resource management and optimization processes at the TUM Campus Straubing. The topic has taken on decisive significance for the healthcare sector in the course of the pandemic. In an interview the two researchers share some insights on their Covid-19 lecture "Personnel Deployment and Bed Planning in the Hospital", to be held on June 9
Would better planning of hospital bed occupancy and personnel resources have meant more relaxed Corona measures?
Alexander Hübner: No, but clinics, personnel and patients were able to benefit from good deployment and resource planning during the pandemic in particular. One thing which is often forgotten in public discourse about intensive care beds: A hospital bed is only really available when the corresponding personnel and equipment are available as well.
Clemens Thielen: Creating shift plans for round-the-clock operations which have to consider various qualification levels, legal regulations like requirements for rest periods and employee preferences and which also have to absolutely guarantee there will be no staffing gaps in spite of personnel shortfalls is a highly complex task. You can’t do this kind of planning with pencil and paper. But some clinics are still doing exactly that.
Alexander Hübner: In addition, during the pandemic the familiar planning procedures have been disrupted because hospitals had to isolate the Corona wards from the other areas. The scope of planning which was previously meant for individual stations had to be enlarged to consider the hospital as a whole.
What kind of tools can help the clinics?
Alexander Hübner: Digital tools used in industry for production planning can be adapted for use with bed occupancy planning. The underlying mathematical procedures are ultimately the same, regardless of whether you’re planning the use of a certain machine or of a bed. But digitalization has come a lot farther in industry than it has in the healthcare sector.
Clemens Thielen: We’ve developed software for personnel planning which is already being used at hospitals. One thing which has helped particularly in times when physicians and nurses are suddenly unavailable due to quarantines: The program makes it possible to plan a complete backup staff for every shift. And when employees experience greater reliability and fairness in personnel planning, that of course results in greater satisfaction. And given the massive shortage of personnel, employers won’t be able to make do without this kind of thing for long.
How are patients benefitting from digitalization?
Alexander Hübner: Not only can hospitals work more cost-efficiently, they can also improve actual care. This starts with transporting the patient to the hospital. Until now the major hospitals, referred to as maximum care facilities, have to accept every patient who arrives by ambulance. This could mean in some cases that the patient is then brought to a hospital which is already overcrowded, while plenty of beds may be available somewhere nearby. This would work much better with a system in which the availability and type of beds and personnel is visible at all times. It would then even be possible to automatically accommodate the most typical patient preferences, so that for example an elderly lady wouldn’t be placed in a room with a teenager.
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