Virginia Mason Franciscan Health used its Command Center technology to provide a holistic picture of patient rooms throughout the health system during to help coordinate its pandemic response.

Feb 15 2022

How Healthcare Organizations Can Centralize Their Care Delivery

Mission control–style command centers have helped healthcare organizations to maximize capacity at a time when resources have been stretched thin.

The timing couldn’t have been better. In June 2019, ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic, Virginia Mason Franciscan Health unveiled its new Mission Control Command Center.

The solution aimed to use data to improve practices across the Washington state healthcare system, including patient transfers, bed turnaround time, staffing and utilization of equipment.

In early 2020, those efficiencies became even more important as COVID-19 patients overwhelmed hospitals across the U.S., stretching resources to their breaking point.

“I don’t know how we would have managed during the pandemic without the command center,” says Matt Metsker, division director for Mission Control and virtual health services at Virginia Mason Franciscan Health. “Of course, the organization would have found a way, but we wouldn’t have been able to make the same real-time decisions based on data, and we wouldn’t have had these levers to pull when we needed to quickly make changes. That’s partly why there’s been a proliferation of command centers, even during the pandemic.”

A recent KLAS Research report shows that hospitals with command centers relied heavily on them to streamline their operations during the most challenging portions of the pandemic.

“Organizations that have a command center have really been able to centralize their operations,” says Jennifer Hickenlooper, insights director for KLAS Research. “Being able to increase efficiencies and visibility into resources was key to helping with the pandemic, as there were shortages of both beds and staff. This visibility helped organizations to increase their staffed capacity, match patients where there was availability and route them to the right location throughout their organization.”

“Some organizations we spoke with rushed to get command centers up and running to help them gain better visibility into what was happening,” Hickenlooper adds. “They felt that having this visibility was very helpful during the pandemic.”

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Real-Time Data Provides Holistic View of Care Conditions

Mission Control at Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, in collaboration with GE Healthcare, uses Command Center technology that renders analytics from across the organization onto “tiles” that allow stakeholders to form a real-time, holistic picture of what is happening in patient rooms throughout the healthcare system. The analytics engine, developed by GE Healthcare, is served from the cloud over a private network connection to the hospital, using Microsoft Azure ExpressRoute.

The video walls — a large one in Mission Control that is 10 screens wide and two screens high, and smaller ones in three of the large hospitals — consist of 55-inch ultrahigh-resolution Planar displays with a 5-millimeter bezel.

The healthcare system’s executives had an “aha!” moment early in the pandemic, Metsker says, when leaders met via conference call for their first COVID-19 incident command discussion on a Sunday night. Everyone was at home, and no one knew how many negative pressure rooms, also called airborne infection isolation rooms, were currently available.

Metsker recalls saying that he’d log on to the tiles. “There was no other easy way to get that information, aside from each leader calling their individual house supervisors to ask. But I was able to provide it to the executives in the moment instead. There was a realization among the group that this is going to help so much,” he adds.

Matt Metsker

Matt Metsker, division director for Mission Control and virtual health services at Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, says a centralized strategy helped with the health system's pandemic response. Photo: Rick Dahms

Hospital Command Centers Increase Efficiencies

Hospital command centers are a relatively new solution, but organizations have been racing to adopt them as they prove their value.

In Maryland, The Johns Hopkins Hospital deployed a first-of-its-kind command center in 2016. Since then, the hospital has fielded requests from ­hundreds of other organizations to visit and learn more about the technology.

“We initially projected a five-year return on investment, but we achieved a full ROI within three years,” says Anna Ye, former assistant administrator for the office of capacity management at the hospital. “Pre-COVID, we had essentially opened up 16 virtual beds for our hospital by using our command center and the efficiencies that come out of that.”

When a hospital can create the equivalent of a new bed through increased efficiencies, that presents a significant financial win.

The hospital’s command center uses six ceiling-mounted and 16 wall-mounted 55-inch LCD screens, 34 workstations, 30 virtual machines and live video from 1,200 security cameras.

“We are so thankful we had this command center in place before COVID-19 hit,” Ye says. “So many hospitals were just trying to figure out how they were going to do these processes each day. By having these processes in place when the pandemic hit, we didn’t have to do much differently. We were still placing and transferring patients like before.”

LEARN MORE: Explore how smart hospitals enhance the patient experience.

Command Centers Create Tangible Outcomes for Hospitals

Since Oregon Health & Science University launched its own command center in 2017, its operations also gained agility and efficiency.

“Before, we were figuring out how many patients we had and how many we anticipated moving forward by writing on pieces of paper and whiteboards,” says Dr. Matthias Merkel, OHSU’s senior associate chief medical officer for capacity management and patient flow. “We ended up in a situation where we had these meetings daily, and we realized, as a health system, that we needed to do this better.”

During the first year of operations, the hospital was able to place more than 500 patients with its partner locations thanks to the command center, which increased access to the academic health center for patients throughout Oregon, many from rural hospitals across the region. Within two years, that number had more than doubled, to 1,200.

DISCOVER: Look inside AdventHealth’s massive new command center.

The pandemic has increased the average length of stay for patients at OHSU, complicating the organization’s ability to measure the impact of the command center on that metric. But previously, the hospital had created the equivalent of 20 new hospital beds through increased efficiencies.

At the pandemic’s start, OHSU used the command center to assess how much bed capacity the organization would gain if it halted elective surgeries, Merkel says, and its estimate ended up being “spot on.”

“Often, there is a disconnect. You have good technology but not the people to maximize it, or vice versa,” Merkel says. “This showcased for us how the right technology can really help the right people to do the right job.”

people to maximize it, or vice versa,” Merkel says. “This showcased for us how the right technology can really help the right people to do the right job.”

Virginia Mason Franciscan Health

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