“Demand forecasting” is the act of predicting future patient volumes. It’s incredibly useful for improving the operating efficiency of a radiology organization; resource usage, financial planning, and staff schedules are all influenced by patient volumes. Forecasts can be visualized through metrics dashboards, and its future volume patterns are predicted through algorithms (e.g., AI algorithms) by leveraging insights available in historical data. When using a radiology business operations platform, benefits can be realized through three distinct areas: financial, operational, and clinical.

Financial Planning

The future financial health of an organization can be informed through demand forecasting. For example, predicted volumes can inform the organization about future collections. In turn, insights into professional and technical fees drive financial planning for efficient resource allocation, spend on materials (e.g., contrast), and equipment purchases. It can also inform other areas, such as which studies are predicted to generate the most revenue, based on modality, volume, and claims submissions success rates. It can also be applied to demographic data to understand future market conditions, such as which geographies are demonstrating revenue growth (or decline) for a specific modality. In short, demand forecasting allows for appropriate financial decisions to be made so that profitability can be maximized.

Patient Experience Starts with Operational Efficiency

Demand forecasting is a powerful tool for ensuring that scheduled patients have enough staff to support them. Understaffing can overwhelm scheduled staff, which leads to longer patient wait times and a degraded experience. Meanwhile, overstaffing means staffing costs are incurred when there are more staff than there are patients; also, patients can be inconvenienced when schedulers call to inform them of same-day appointment availability. When staff are scheduled to the predicted volume, patients have better experiences (e.g., less emotional discomfort due to wait times), and operations benefits from reduced patient leakage.

There are also benefits associated with the efficient use of modalities. Staff can reference usage data in real-time to allocate patients to available devices, based on forecasted demand. For example, if there are two CT machines and four patients, two patients can be assigned to each CT machine, rather than have them all wait for one. This leads to more patient throughput and reduced wait times. Concurrently, real-time usage data can inform staff of unavailable machines (e.g., a malfunction) so that patient expectations can be managed appropriately. Only with real-time usage data and demand forecasting can efficient machine utilization be properly planned for.

Reducing Burnout and Increasing Clinical Quality

Staffing adequately through demand forecasting can also reduce burnout. For example, when 25 hours’ worth of a radiologist’s time is scheduled, but 35 hours are needed for interpretation, there’s a good chance the week ahead will be challenging. The same goes for techs and other staff that are seeing patients. They might skip their breaks, delay their lunches, or work longer, later hours because of their workload. (Meanwhile, the organization incurs overtime costs.) Staff are less patient-focused because they’re burdened, dissatisfied, and tired, which can increase the likelihood of mistakes. If this happens regularly, it can lead to staff burnout. On a related note, overstaffing may also hurt staff morale (and your bottom line); they may feel unproductive, bored, or worse yet, resentful for having been scheduled in the first place.  Demand forecasting can help reduce burnout and increase morale by 1) ensuring that staff are productive at a reasonable rate and 2) providing them with the bandwidth they need to focus on patient care and proper medical decision-making.

Summarizing the Benefits

Ultimately, forecasting patient demand has a variety of benefits across the financial, operational, and clinical areas. Future revenues can be predicted, and financial investments can be planned for. Staff and equipment operations can be streamlined to improve the patient experience. Finally, burnout can be reduced, and job satisfaction can be improved by ensuring that staff are scheduled appropriately to the predicted patient volume. Demand forecasting is a powerful, essential tool for predicting future patient volumes and informing planning decisions.

HealthLevel is the creator of Foundations™, a radiology business operations platform. By combining financial, clinical, and operational data, it uses analytics to paint a complete picture of a business’s operations. It engages every team member to confidently take actions that improve productivity and increase the bottom line. Learn more.

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