Addressing and Streamlining Operational Efficiency For Infusion Centers in 2021

By Ashley Joseph, senior director of client services, Infusion at LeanTaaS.

Ashley Joseph

Each new year brings about the opportunity to reflect, learn and welcome positive change in our personal lives. This ideology is also embraced by the healthcare industry, as we’re constantly looking to improve workflows and incorporate new technology to boost patient care and operational efficiency.

To say the healthcare industry has learned a lot from 2020 would be a drastic understatement. As we enter 2021, we have an opportunity to make improvements to the vulnerabilities exposed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Infusion centers (and their patients) were forced to get creative “on the fly” in 2020.  With the new year officially here, we expect to see more change and creativity from infusion centers around the country, in response to yet more new challenges.

Infusion centers may expand their scope

In the past, infusion centers have had occasional times when a chair or two was used for non-oncology treatments. Now, we’re seeing these various treatments pop up in centers more frequently, especially some COVID-19 treatments like monoclonal antibody infusions used to treat coronavirus patients. This not only increases the scarcity of chair resources, but also creates issues around trying to treat COVID-19 patients in the same vicinity as severely immunocompromised patients.

Process bottlenecks may come from new sources

Infusion chairs have traditionally been the limiting factor in how many patients can be treated per day.  Today, though, nursing shortages are just as likely to be the limiting asset.  These shortages are caused by unexpected, COVID-induced early retirements, quarantines required due to COVID-19 exposure, and the fact that infusion nurses are highly skilled – and thus among those who can easily provide support in inpatient units when those units experience sudden or unexpected nursing shortages.

Some centers have been forced to create/section off infusion areas for cancer patients who have also tested positive for COVID-19.  Every time that the overall pool of available infusion chairs needs to be segmented such that any patient can’t go into any chair, efficiency in the center overall will decline.

Infusion centers will have to embrace a whole new level of nimbleness

Infusion centers are typically very predictable places.  For example, if one chooses a future day of the week and the time of day and has access to a center’s historical data, he/she could fairly accurately guess what the center’s patient demand is likely to be.

This world of predictability was shattered when COVID-19 took hold. Infusion center managers had to completely socially distance chairs and re-configure waiting room logistics overnight, with new limits on how many patients (if any) were allowed in a waiting room at once. Infection control protocols that were already top-shelf were taken to a completely different level.  Nurses stations had to be changed to ensure appropriate spacing between nurses.

Over the course of 2020, infusion centers took each of these changes in stride and spent most of the year powering through constantly changing conditions with the energy of someone who knows a condition is temporary.  Now, managers are preparing for these changes to be their “new normal,” and they are re-thinking every part of their operations.  For example, many centers adopted no visitors policies. It’s only now that centers are recognizing how much basic patient care was typically done by visitors (getting extra warm blankets for patients, assisting with the use of in-room/chair technology, etc.).  Many centers are realizing that they need to consider staffing increases to pick up the tasks that were previously somewhat invisible, thanks to patient friends and family.

Infusion centers will look for partners, not solely vendors

The one constant in infusion centers during this pandemic has been change. With change comes added stress, such as new scheduling constraints and priorities. Any company selling a product to an infusion center this year needs to be ready to roll their sleeves up and help the center navigate whatever comes their way. Infusion centers don’t have the time or energy to deal with vendors right now; they need strong partners who can be just as agile and resilient as the centers themselves are. This means staying extremely close to the constantly changing conditions across infusion centers and creating/adapting products and features quickly and accordingly.

Though we can’t predict exactly what 2021 will look like for infusion centers, we can be sure that it will be a year to remember.  Centers that embrace agility and resiliency – and find strong partners to help them manage even the most jarring shocks – may find themselves stronger and more capable than they ever thought possible, once they finally enter a post-COVID world.

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