Automation in Multi-Site Healthcare Systems
Hospital foodservice facilities, throughout the country, have welcomed technological innovations to automate departmental operations. Facilities strive to streamline processes to improve efficiency and cut costs, while upholding patient satisfaction and safety.
Computer technologies have enabled foodservice facilities to automate the process of food management, production and distribution. Current software enables foodservice sites to automate ordering, receiving and inventory processes as well as recipe building, menu creation, forecasting and point-of-sale operations. Chefs can now prepare for meals, utilizing automated meal production worksheets and menu scaled recipes based on forecasted numbers. Forecasted numbers are no longer a guessing game but rather a result of true historical numbers produced by auto tallies of past meals. The investment in the automation of food operations management has led to significant cost savings, especially in multi-site healthcare systems.
Cost saving, alone, is not the only driver of automation. The safety of patients, as well as patient satisfaction are top considerations when choosing to automate processes. As cutting edge technology has replaced the paper cardex system, the efficiency of meal service and the safety of patients are enhanced. With the touch of a button, diet clerks can utilize automated processes to make patient meal selections. Selections are not made without careful consideration of patients' allergies, dietary restrictions and dietary preferences. Technological innovations have mobilized the patient meal selection process, allowing for more face-time with patients. Customer service is still one of the most important metrics by which foodservice operations are evaluated.
I had the pleasure of working in a multi-site hospital network operation as they automated nutrition, foodservice and point-of-sale in 16 facilities. They used a consolidated model to manage the sites’ efficiency, costs and service to customers. Through the consolidated model, the hospital network standardized the use of approved food items, recipes and base menus. An appointed purchasing analyst, at the network level, manages all updates of standardized data and audits compliance. The sites’ utilize an automated merge process to send updates to the 16 facilities.
The sites have automated processes of food operations management including inventory, floor stock, menu forecasting and meal production management. The sites integrate food and recipe item information into a point-of-sale retail management system. The automation of these processes has resulted in tighter control of expenses (through less waste and purchasing compliance) and improved monitoring capability.
The hospitals vary in patient service style from traditional trayline to bedside ordering to room service. The automation does not stop here. Sites within the network ensure patient safety by running allergy and dietary restriction checks. Auto nutrient analysis and computerized meal patterns safeguard compliance of nutrient limits. While some sites accommodate patient meal selections from call centers, others visit patient rooms utilizing computers and/or tablet devices. Due to the automation of the meal selection process, all orders are real-time and communicated to staff instantaneously. The network also utilizes a tray tracking system to evaluate and manage the efficiency of meal production and delivery. Automation of nutrition care management has contributed to enhanced productivity within the division.
The hospital network has proven that their solution will enhance the customer experience and provide a positive return on the foodservice operation's investment. Through high compliance of the supply chain consolidated model and automation of foodservice processes, the hospital network saved over a million dollars during the first two years of implementation and increased employee productivity.
Technology is advancing at a fast pace and changing the business model in the foodservice industry. The hospital network has proven that automation in a multi-site healthcare system can decrease costs and increase productivity while upholding patient safety and patient satisfaction. It seems automation is the way of the future.
Article by: Liz Levenduski, MS, RD, LD, Product Manager; Fusion, 1st Quarter, 2015