Do The Math: COVID Shows How Easily The Healthcare System Is Overwhelmed

By January 8, 2021 February 3rd, 2021 News

Even though he thinks waves of the coronavirus will be around for at least another year or two, LeanTaaS CEO Mohan Giridharadas said that at least one side effect of the pandemic could affect the healthcare system forever.

“I think what COVID has done is put a bright spotlight on how hard it is to manage [healthcare] capacity and how easily a system that is operating on the edge of capacity can get overwhelmed,” Giridharadas said in a recent conversation with PYMNTS.

LeanTaaS is a software company that uses predictive analytics and machine learning to manage hospital operations. The iQueue software is its main product. With the pandemic raging and hospitals unable to accommodate patients, its solutions are particularly relevant – but capacity issues aren’t limited to the COVID crisis.

Just like a clogged freeway during rush hour or 50,000 cars all trying to leave a football game at the same time, Giridharadas said that many of the nation’s essential treatment facilities are struggling with backlogs and wait times, as well as costly and wasteful downtimes. The good news: Given the health, well-being and money that is at stake, Giridharadas believes things are going to get better.

“Coming out of this, I would imagine that health systems will become much more analytical and rigorous about how they think through capacity,” he predicted. “They need to think through how they mobilize that capacity, how to ramp it up quickly and how to ramp it down when it’s not needed.”

Rigorous Math Vs. Calendar Gazing

Unlike reserving tennis courts or making a spa appointment, Giridharadas said healthcare and hospital operations are complex and require rigorous mathematical analysis that goes far beyond looking for open dates on a calendar. In addition, he said, hospitals also need to analyze and account for variables in supply and demand. For example, that means knowing such things as how many patients will show up on any given day, what treatments they’ll need and whether they’ll be on time. Healthcare providers also need to manage their supply, such as the equipment, nurses, staff and rooms required to deliver the services.

“If you’re going to deliver chemotherapy, that means the drugs, the pump, the nurse and the chair all need to be available. If any one of them is not available, that chemo session is not happening,” he said. “So the math to match supply and demand has to be very, very rigorous. Two people gazing at a calendar and deciding is simply not enough.”

Uberizing Healthcare

It’s not as if Giridharadas is not sympathetic to the unforeseen obstacles and other challenges his healthcare provider clients face, such as nurses calling in sick, a pump breaking or a patient running late. But in the same way that Uber has perfected the predictive art of adapting to fluctuations in supply and demand by managing both its drivers and riders, so too can the nation’s healthcare providers.

Giridharadas notes that during every minute of every day on every street corner everywhere in the world, Uber has found a way to understand the historical patterns of riders and drivers. It has also cracked the code on how to actively intervene to manage it, whether that’s through messages and higher rates for drivers when cars are needed, or through surge-pricing fare increases to discourage riders when cars are in short supply.

“That’s the level of active intervention it takes to make it work,” he said. “Looking at a calendar simply won’t do it” – especially since hospital and specialty treatment facilities no longer have the luxury of extra capacity like they did in the past.

“When you start coming close to the knife’s edge [of full capacity], you have to apply this level of crazy mathematics to make it work – and no health system prior to deploying tools like ours was even touching it,” said Giridharadas.

Pixie Dust And Choreography

With some 5,000 hospitals collectively sitting on $2 trillion of equipment and other assets, Giridharadas said that healthcare’s asset utilization rate is “far, far worse” than any other asset-intensive industry, including manufacturing, airlines and retail. And even though he says that a “five- or 10-point move of the needle” in terms of increased efficiency could unlock $200 billion of value each year, it still takes work.

“To crack the supply-demand problem, you can’t just sprinkle analytic pixie dust at the highest level and solve it. You have to drill a mile deep into understanding,” he said – and then crush each different asset, one at a time.

Giridharadas said the operational “choreography” involved in keeping routine airport landings and takeoffs running smoothly should serve as an inspiration to hospitals. “Each asset had its supply-demand math done perfectly. There’s a choreography, a natural order to it,” he noted. “You cannot clean the cabin until all the passengers are off, but you must clean the cabin before the new passengers come on.”

The same thing applies to operating rooms, infusion chairs and inpatient beds. “That dance sequence of who goes next is a very complex mathematical choreography, which falls under the class of network optimization or topology,” he said. “But when you get both of those done right, magic happens.”

Clearly, LeanTaaS, which derives its name from providing lean transformations as a service, has plenty of room to grow – and thanks to a recent $130 million of Series D funding, it has additional capital to work with.

“First, we will continue to double down and reinvest in our core products, because innovation is never done,” Giridharadas said. “And we will accelerate the expansion of our iQueue suite line of products, which means more engineering, more data science and more product managers.”

Giridharadas said his company also plans to be much more assertive in launching its iQueue for Inpatient platform; it foresees a beta launch in the first half of the year, with hopes for seven or eight system installs by the end of the year.