Dec 14 2022

What Is a Healthcare Command Center?

A centralized operations hub can break down silos and improve care coordination.

When people think of a command center, NASA’s Mission Control may be the first example that comes to mind. Other agencies, from the local to federal level, also rely on mission-critical operations centers as a centralized location for real-time data and response coordination. 

In the past half decade, command centers have been gaining ground as permanent fixtures in healthcare organizations — a sort of air traffic control for patient care. In 2016, for example, The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Maryland launched its command center as operational challenges impacted the quality of care.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, health systems that had command centers up and running were well positioned to deal with the overwhelming demand for care, providing hospitals with real-time insight into bed availability, staffing levels and patient journeys.

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“I don’t know how we would have managed during the pandemic without the command center,” said Matt Metsker, division director for mission control and virtual health services at Virginia Mason Franciscan Health in Washington state, in a HealthTech article earlier this year. “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.”

For healthcare organizations that are interested in standing up their own healthcare command centers, here’s what such a solution can offer patients and providers.

Supporting Patient Care on a Continuum With Command Centers

Think of a retail company that has a centralized logistics center that’s tracking shipments to customers, vehicle fleet health and weather conditions. Healthcare also needs that level of coordination, especially as patients enter and exit facilities across multiple locations.

In many cases, providers need to maintain the care of patients even when they’re not within hospital walls. For example, with patients who have just had a heart procedure, the level of detailed follow-up needed may already be happening, but it may not be widespread. Command centers can support the continuum of care — they’re already showing the effectiveness of coordination between hospital facilities. More examples will arise with additional virtual care capabilities: Children’s National Hospital in D.C. opened a telehealth command center earlier this year to better monitor patients with critical heart disease.

As health systems look to improve patient experiences, being able to follow a patient’s journey and provide consistent care throughout is critical.

Providing Healthcare Staff with Direction and Flexibility

Health systems with command centers have real-time visibility into staffing levels, which can improve coordination between care teams and break down silos. Staff will appreciate the efficiencies command centers can bring. For example, patients who can be discharged aren’t left lingering in beds, and rooms can be cleaned more quickly. This level of coordination requires well-designed communication channels across departments, which will ultimately improve processes systemwide.

With the incorporation of remote solutions, these command centers can offer an opportunity to combat clinician burnout. If integrated with a virtual nursing program, for example, overextended nurses might rotate off the floor and remotely support newer nurses at the bedside. In this way, newer nurses get the benefit of the older nurses’ years of experience, and older nurses get better work-life balance. Imagine how that translates into improvements in employee satisfaction and clinical outcomes.

READ MORE: Atrium Health’s virtual nursing observation program mitigates clinician burnout.

How to Get Started With Healthcare Command Centers

While healthcare command centers boast the latest equipment, it’s not enough to just throw technology at a problem and hope that solves it. Before standing up a command center, a health system must start with a strategy, a shared vision and governance.

Call centers are not new, and neither are monitoring teams, but folding together disparate pieces to create a truly singular vision of operations for a healthcare organization is an ongoing journey. Command centers are about integrating all of these operations into one cohesive unit, instead of what’s traditionally done in healthcare, which is to put people and processes in silos.

This article is part of HealthTech’s MonITor blog series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using #WellnessIT.

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