This article originally appeared on HBR.org (subscription may be required).
Physician discontent over deteriorating working conditions and growing risks to patient care has risen to alarming levels in European hospitals. To understand physicians’ evolving reality, Bain’s biennial Europe Front Line of Health Care Survey tracks European practitioners’ attitudes, priorities and decision-making power. The findings are based on input from 1,156 physicians across nine specialties and 154 hospital procurement administrators in Germany, France, the UK, and Italy. Our research shows that a majority of doctors wouldn’t recommend their hospital to family or friends as a place to work or receive care. Citing staffing shortages, budget cuts, aging equipment and inadequate facilities, physicians warn they are unprepared to cope with looming healthcare challenges. Provider organizations have attempted structural changes over the past few years to fix specific problems, but, on the whole, their efforts have fallen short.
When an entire system needs renewal, it’s hard to know where to start. In our experience, providers can create powerful momentum for change and reengage doctors by focusing specifically on technologies that doctors feel improves their ability to deliver care. However, technology alone is insufficient. Getting physician buy-in by assuring that they experience the technology’s benefits is essential.
We see a few leading provider networks in Europe that are starting down this path. They are reengaging physicians by setting out a clear vision to provide exceptional care, innovating at scale in a few core areas and making technology investments that will help them deliver substantial improvements in care delivery. These organizations are targeting technologies that have a proven impact on patient outcomes, efficiency of care delivery, workforce engagement, or population demand management.
The UK Salford Royal NHS foundation trust is one provider network leading in both frontline engagement and technology deployment. With a reputation as one of the best performing hospital trusts in the UK, it is one of 16 hospitals the NHS has cited as a “global digital exemplar”, a provider delivering superior care efficiently through the use of world-class digital technology.
The management team at the UK’s Salford Royal NHS foundation trust has launched 50 digital projects aimed at improving patient experience and safety, increasing operational efficiency and improving reliability. Many of those investments already have produced positive outcomes for patients, including an electronic assessment tool for detecting delirium which has reduced the average length of a hospital stay for patients by half, IT infrastructure that enables patients to send their wearable data directly to clinicians for real-time monitoring, and an electronic assessment tool that has reduced patients’ venous thromboembolism rate by 20%. Salford’s strategy also has significantly reduced documentation time for staff. Ninety-three percent of clinicians said they were satisfied with the hospital’s electronic patient record services according to a recent survey by KLAS research, compared with an average of 60% among clinicians generally.
Many provider organizations are still at the beginning of the journey. In Spain, Badalona Serveis Assistencials, a local provider outside Barcelona is deploying various technologies to develop a more integrated and effective care model for patients with complex chronic conditions. It has used advanced analytics to build a predictive model of patient populations by risk so that doctors can intervene proactively; it uses fully integrated electronic healthcare records to coordinate care across different care sites, including home, social care and health services; and it uses telemonitoring to keep a close watch on patients’ status at home. To date, the effort has reduced the average length of stay in hospitals, average bed days and emergency visits. Overall, it has improved patient outcomes and reduced the operating costs of clinical services.
In France, four Paris hospitals are part of a trial using machine learning and Big Data to tackle the problem of staffing shortages by forecasting patient visits and admission rates. The project, run by Assistance Publique-Hôpitaux de Paris, the largest hospital system in Europe, combines historical (anonymized) data with external datasets including weather, public holidays and flu patterns, to forecast visits and admission rates for the coming 15 days. The hospital group plans to use the data to ensure adequate staffing levels during peak periods, reduce waiting times and improve quality of care. Although still in development, the forecasting model has proven accurate within a 5% variance for the actual admission rate and management hopes to roll it out eventually across all 44 hospitals.
Europe’s healthcare providers face broad systemic challenges, including rethinking care delivery for a rapidly aging population. Targeted investments in technology that improve patient care and provider efficiency can help enable that shift. The efforts by Salford, Badalona Serveis Assistencials and Assistance Publique-Hôpitaux de Paris highlight the way forward. Setting ambitious goals for improving care and using smart investments in technology can play a vital role in galvanizing broader change—and help address the discontent that so many doctors in Europe face.
Nitin Chaturvedi is a partner in the London office of Bain & Company. Akshay Agarwal is a principal in the London office of Bain & Company.