Enabling responsive hospital housekeeping with workflow IT
Workflow oriented use of IT in hospitals can increase resource utilization, patient satisfaction and patient throughput, by integrating and aligning work processes. However, the role of hospital support staff, such as porters and housekeepers in interdepartmental workflow coordination has received scant attention. With digitally integrated workflows, the influence of support services on patient flow becomes visible and open to scrutiny and explication. Empirically, we follow efforts to leverage IT to improve workflow coordination at Kalnes general hospital in Norway. Specifically, we employ the Theory of Swift and Even Flow to examine the influence workflow oriented use of IT has on housekeeping responsiveness to patient flow variability and temporary patient flow bottlenecks. We find that efforts to improve workflow coordination introduces novel ramifications for hospital housekeeping and that IT serves both as a real time coordinative tool and as a source for post hoc data analysis and process streamlining. In particular, we identify and discuss three maturity levels of IT mediated workflow coordination, which we refer to as workflow transparency, synchronization and responsiveness. We find that workflow oriented use of IT can raise the responsiveness of hospital support services through a combination of interdepartmental transparency and improved synchronization. Importantly, workflow integration can reveal interdependencies that impinge on the productivity of support staff but are beyond their immediate influence. Consequently, it is important to involve often-overlooked hospital support services directly in the planning and evaluation of workflow-oriented use of IT.