Using data to cut costs in Healthcare Facilities Management

by Dr Melanie Robinson | November 24, 2023 | 4 min read

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The UK experienced unprecedented growth in healthcare spending over 2020 and 2021 following the coronavirus pandemic, with healthcare spending 26.8% higher in nominal terms (or 13.5% higher in real terms), in 2022 compared with 2019. The Office for National Statistics, earlier this year shared that spending on healthcare in the UK in 2022 reached approximately £283 billion.

Healthcare organisations are also dealing with an ageing estate and significant backlog maintenance. The most recent Estates Returns Information Collection (ERIC) data shows the NHS requires an estimated £10.2 billion investment to eradicate backlog, almost matching the total costs of running the entire estate.

However, to efficiently run our estates, we need good quality, searchable information about our built environment.

Yet, many owners of healthcare estates still wrangle with information stored in hard copies, with operation and maintenance manuals still being handed over in ring binders. Moreover, regardless of how data is handed over, as much as 90% of the data generated in the engineering and construction industry is unstructured and 96% is unused entirely.

Whilst the value of data in the wider healthcare setting has been reinvigorated through the government’s strategy “Data Saves Lives: Reshaping Health and Social Care with Data”, this does not provide any insight into how data can be better utilised for use within the built environment.

Within any single capital project, thousands of deliverables are produced, which need to be managed and, more critically, maintained throughout the hospital’s full lifecycle.

With this scale of unstructured information production, there is a significant amount of waste, particularly when we start attributing a carbon cost to the production, storage and exchange of information. For example, according to the Carbon Literacy Project, an email that takes 10 mins to read and three minutes to read accounts for as much as 17g CO2e!

One way to better utilise our asset information is by deploying an integrated solution that will improve decision making, in turn optimising both asset maintenance operations and patient care through the use of digital data to better understand our built environment. An integrated platform can link together different enterprise systems and provide a single view of the truth, making more efficient use of data.

This will unlock the value in soft and hard Facilities Management (FM) activities, helping operators gain a deeper understanding of their assets, how they are performing, and how this is impacting patients’ health and welfare. It is essential the healthcare industry invests in digital processes, which can for example produce significant savings surrounding work orders and reducing the time wasted searching for information.

A simple first step in achieving these savings is understanding why you need data and explaining this in plain language. This will provide the framework for specifying your information requirements. For example, estate owners will need information to undertake asset maintenance and to build a regime for planned preventative maintenance. For this, they will need to know what assets are maintainable, where these maintainable assets are located within the building, and what data is held on these items to undertake effective maintenance.

Where possible, these information requirements should be specified using open data standards, which not only structure your asset information, but provide it in an interoperable format which can be mapped into enterprise systems.

Once we have the foundations in place for structured, interrelated data, we can start building our use cases for more intelligent processes, potentially moving from relying on static documentation into real-time data analytics.

However, regardless of how intelligent our building data becomes, we need to maintain the information on which it is built. If we maintain and update our physical building, then the digital building needs to be maintained and updated too.

This will undoubtedly require a shift in skillsets from the FM teams. Simply saving the new PDF warranty information for a new boiler in a folder on the server does not mean you are maintaining the digital building. It needs to be catalogued by naming the file correctly and integrating it within the wider information model, so it can be searched for and interrogated. This would be like receiving your O&M manual in a ring binder, then throwing the paper warranty documents in a desk drawer!

Healthcare FM is the cornerstone for providing the best patient care possible as well as maintaining day-to-day operations. Using data and digital technologies to improve how we understand our buildings via the information we hold will have a long terms savings impact on hospital spending, something every NHS Trust throughout the UK can realise, to support actions in reducing estate and facilities management operational expenditure.

Dr Melanie Robinson

Associate, BIM Academy

Melanie is an Associate at BIM Academy, specialising in building information modelling (BIM) and information management according to ISO 19650.

Melanie manages several projects across multiple sectors globally, and works closely with international clients to develop digital strategies for project and asset management.

Melanie’s specialisms include change management, standardisation and digital collaboration, and she acts as a Regional Lead for Women in BIM (WIB).

Melanie holds a PhD from Edinburgh Napier University (ENU) which looked into the micro-level factors to an effective macro-level diffusion of BIM, including the gap between perceived and actual efficacy of BIM understanding and skills. She is also an award-winning graduate of ENU’s Architectural Technology programme, having obtained a first-class Honours degree in 2015.

Melanie Robinson