Maximising healthcare floor space with better information management
In the face of staffing shortages and an ageing population, the Australian health sector is under increasing pressure to fit more beds in smaller areas. Not only does this affect the quality of patient care — it impacts a facility’s ability attract and retain staff. Information management practices can play a significant role in the way healthcare environments utilise space.
A recent report on hospital design jointly released by HASSELL and The University of Melbourne Health Systems & Workforce Unit noted that “[the] appropriation of spaces in hospitals for uses other than the original intention is common: treatment areas become offices, corridors become waiting areas, bathrooms become store rooms.” One nurse interviewed stated: “I guess you don’t take into account where all the equipment goes when you’re interviewing for the job. But then when… you see other wards, they’ve got this whole alcove to put their stuff and we’re putting our stuff in an old bathroom.”
Over-storage of physical patient records is a significant contributing factor to this misuse of space, as conservative document retention practices in healthcare mean that redundant documents are stored indefinitely. Over time, archives become increasingly impractical and expensive to audit, and can therefore neither be discarded nor easily put to use. The end result is floor space that cannot be used for beds, equipment or staff.
This is also a problem in other industries. Author Paul Wilkinson cites the 2004 example of one organisation that “had accumulated more than 100,000 archive boxes” over a 70-year period. To put this figure in perspective, just 500 archive boxes will fill a 5m x 5m room to the ceiling. While other sectors may have the luxury of floor space, healthcare does not, and retention of even a modest number of paper records can have a detrimental effect on efficiency. Additionally, when healthcare institutions do move their paper archives off-site, they can still often be left with a space that is difficult to use due to shelving and other office clutter.
This is partly due to a failure to utilise the full service offerings of contractors. A plumbing contractor that also provides electrical services — and that offers a reduced rate to businesses engaging both of those capabilities — is a better investment than two separate contractors. In terms of non-core services, healthcare providers can find themselves in a situation of outsourcing their ICT system, information management, cleaning services, and office FF&E to different providers. Rarely will a facility look for a contractor that rolls all of these services into a single, cost-saving solution.
To enhance efficiency, it is important for healthcare providers to ask what additional services an information management provider can offer them, and what cost savings engaging those services might have. The best information management firms integrate their archiving, digitisation and retrieval solutions with a wider range of offerings, including asset management and data courier services, customisable ICT, cleaning services, office renovations, countrywide support, and many more functions.
The immediate benefit of outsourcing information management is more space for patients, staff and essential equipment. Having an information management partner paying close attention to sentencing schedules also means that documents are less likely to occupy costly shelf space off-site, allowing for a dramatic reduction in information storage overheads.
In addition, an information management partner that provides integrated services allows healthcare providers to enjoy reduced costs for those services overall. Providers of these consolidated systems will often provide attractive quotes to institutions looking to engage a number of different services. The silent benefit of this is that coordination between those services is also entirely managed by the information management firm — meaning, for example, that the archiving of physical documents is seamlessly combined with the removal of old equipment and the re-fitting of spaces for a new purpose.
 Wilkinson, P., Construction Collaboration Technologies: The Extranet Evolution, Taylor & Francis, Oxford, United Kingdom (2005) p. 122.