News / Behind the red line

Healthcare Leaders Spill the Beans on AI, Profits, and Supercharged Staff Engagement 

October 9, 2023


Healthcare Leaders Spill the Beans on AI, Profits, and Supercharged Staff Engagement 

We’ve completed our 40 Fast and Future Leader of Surgical Services interview series for 2023, and there were two common threads: capturing revenues through less waste and embracing new technologies, such as AI (artificial intelligence), to improve patient care. Staff engagement and retention remain a significant challenge, as neither of the above can happen without people.  

Here are some highlights from our 40 Fast winners on profitability into 2024, utilizing AI in the operating room, the hardest stakeholders to win over, and effective approaches to retaining staff. Remember to check out our full slate of 40 Fast interviews starting on October 16!  

How can hospitals improve profitability for 2024? 

Kayla Reece, Senior Nursing Director for Perioperative and Interventional Services 

It’s not popular to close an OR, but sometimes, you need to do everything possible to maximize your resources. If you only have two or three surgeons using only 50% of their block, you must sometimes consolidate. 

Another issue is payer contracts. Many hospitals haven’t returned to the table to renegotiate their payer contracts, and that’s a big piece. I have an amazing business manager here, and he has taken the time to do a deep dive into our service agreements.  

Kendall Carter, Director of Surgical Services 

Ensure your coding and billing follow the guidelines for the vendors and items you’re using to get the most out of your reimbursement. I’ve discovered a lot of coding and billing errors are catch-all codes. Insurance companies don’t like paying for catch-all codes; they want to pay for specific things. When you use a code that’s essentially every other urology procedure, they will pay you way less. 

Jennifer Drudy, Director of Perioperative Services  

We need to be more standardized and efficient with our supplies. For the robotics program at my facility, we’re looking to see if we can get every physician to agree to use the same number of robot arms and instruments on all their cases to help drive down supply costs. Fortunately, our physician groups are great, and they’re invested in making sure we’re fiscally responsible.  

Ashley van der Zee, Perioperative Nurse Educator 

Surgical site infections cost $3.3 billion a year. This causes profit loss, and extended hospital stays harm patients. We lose trust in the community when we have high infection rates. Let’s look at how we provide care, do a gap analysis, and audit practices for compliance.  

Lila Price, Sterile Processing Manager 

Reprocessing items appropriately the first time and not placing unnecessary items on a case. Many disposables are opened just because they’re on the cart, but the doctor never uses them. If we have a good relationship with our materials management and supply chain team, we can identify some of these habits and be more cost-effective.  

Which stakeholders are the hardest to win over? 

Kendall Carter 

It depends on what I’m trying to accomplish. Am I trying to move a physician away from a product because it costs too much? They’re the hardest to win over. Am I trying to open up block time for them? They’re the easiest to win over and 100% on board with whatever I need. I don’t get into the minutia of clinical issues when talking to the executive board. Once you take on a manager or director position, you have to tailor your communication to the audience and give them relevant information. Change isn’t that hard. It’s change that we don’t like or change that we don’t have control over that doesn’t meet our expectations.  

Kayla Reece 

Seasoned staff. The people who have been here the longest have had to drink different Kool-Aid throughout the years with a new boss who comes in with new ideas. I try to tell the “why” behind my changes. They may not love my answer, but they tend to get on board if I help them understand the why behind my decision. And sometimes, they have a better idea. As a leader, you need to be humble enough to say, “Ok, let’s pause on that right now. Let’s continue to think through this as a team, and we’ll get to a better outcome that works for all of us.” 

Ashley van der Zee 

For me, it’s administration. I am continuously advocating for perioperative education expertise. I have to explain the nuance of the perioperative world of care, which is hard to do. I view it as an opportunity to show people our world and grow our specialty. 

Maurice Farwell, Perioperative Business Manager 

That initial bridge is critical. I think it’s important for someone like me to say, “Hey, I am not from the clinical side. Do you mind sharing some of your knowledge with me?” And if I’m making a decision on the financial side, I can go to them and ask if it makes sense clinically. That’s how we can connect and provide the best outcomes.  

Where are we in the development of AI assistance in perioperative services? 

Kayla Reece 

I think it’s amazing, but it’s only as good as the people who understand how it works. In my previous facility, I used a data platform with AI built-in and integrated. I was able to look at control charts, not trends. With control charts, you can understand what is going on and know you’re going in the right direction. There was an issue with tonsil and adenoid removal where we were under benchmark for readmissions. One of our surgeons was vulnerable enough to let us look at this data through this platform. We broke it down by race and then language. We found that if you identified as Asian, readmission was significantly higher. With language, we found the Vietnamese population readmission was even higher. We needed to get ahead of this. After reviewing the literature, we saw that hydration was the key to preventing post-op readmissions for tonsils. We decided to share a document with pictures only. We colored in and circled how much water they needed to drink—based on the child’s weight—for the next seven days to avoid a post-op bleed. We had so many, and then we had zero. There were so many documents and words that we were handing families that it was getting lost in translation. When you have AI and know the statistical significance, you can move the needle far.  

Lila Price 

There is some talk about using borescopes with AI intelligence that can detect what type of bioburden is on an instrument. That will be a huge game changer for identifying residue on these complex medical devices we’re reprocessing. I’m excited about AI because the industry is changing all the time, and it will help us stay in line with those changes. 

Kendall Carter 

AI is a tool already here, and many people don’t realize how much it plays in the background. They always think of it as Star Trek technology and completely sentient robots. It’s a great assistive tool that will revolutionize healthcare, but we have to be incredibly careful with it. Generally, the people creating AI are white, so when you tell an AI program to paint a picture, it will always paint a white person’s face. It’s not racist; it’s just inherent bias. That’s what they see every day. It can get particularly dangerous in healthcare because you have so many groups that this technology must function for.  

What tactics have proven effective for increasing OR staff retention and engagement? 

Kendall Carter 

Advocating for compensation in certain areas. With today’s generation, immediate attention is the new currency. There’s no long-term commitment to anything because everything is at your fingertips. It’s on my phone, and I have it right now. They’re not going to work at one place for 40 years; they’re going to go somewhere that will pay them well now. It’s been tough for organizations to stop using old tools and ideas to address a new problem. We have to honestly support our team and be open with communication to assess their needs. I have to make sure they feel valued and respected. Part of that is compensation. Part of that is making sure we’re staffed so they’re not getting phone calls every day to come in on their days off. That is respecting their time. The only people who should be working extra are those who requested it.   

Kayla Reece 

Our conversation rate for travelers is pretty great. We have a fantastic team, and once we get people through the door, they want to stay because we have a positive, uplifting team environment. If we keep our leaders in a place where they’re happy and not burned out, they are engaged, they are rounding with the teams, they have their finger on the pulse. I think vulnerability and being transparent is what sets us apart. It’s also easy to lure people to the Pacific Northwest. It’s beautiful here. People want the balance between the ocean and the mountains. So, it’s easy to get people here, and then it’s a matter of making sure they have the right experience with the team.  

Remember Whitman Partners is a phone call or email away for your leadership staffing needs. For interim leadership contact Zach Parker or Ines Radic; for permanent leadership, contact John Elffers. Are you looking for a job? Click here to search our job map.