Feature Article

Efficiency with Empathy: How Oncology Providers Reduce Cost, Improve Care

One perennial struggle in healthcare is hinged on finding the balance between efficiency and positive patient experience. A hospital’s business demands high patient volume and fast bed turnover, but that high--and ever increasing--volume can sometimes negatively affect the quality of compassionate care. 

On the surface, increasing efficiency may not seem like it would compassionate care; but as long as those efficiencies derive from strategic plans grounded in the patient experience,1 it can have a significant positive impact on the patients. 

A Global Challenge: Cancer Care, Efficiency in U.S. and Europe

The conversation about the balance of efficiency and empathy is not just happening in the United States, but it also across the globe. Europe operates on a single-payer system through the National Health Service, a different model from the U.S., and also faces this issue. Because this is a universal dilemma, the root of the problem does not seem to stem from the type of heathcare system.

In January 2018, the European Parliament hosted cancer organizations from across Europe for a seminar to discuss the ongoing challenge of improving outcomes and efficiency. At that gathering, leaders focused on potential changes in policy and practice to save lives more efficiently. “How do we define efficient cancer care? Focusing on outcomes that truly matter to patients is a good place to start,” said Lieve Wierinck, a Parliament member and cancer survivor, in her opening address to the group.

Three Ways to Optimize Care, Efficiently and Compassionately

Focus on Operational Capacity

Consider the many resources that feed into oncology care: facility space; staff; technology and support services. Combined, they comprise a care center’s operational capacity3— and hospitals should, at any given time, use from 85 to 90 percent of that capacity for maximum efficiency.

The challenge is that calculating that percentage requires thoughtful balance.4 Overcapacity can cause bed shortages and long wait times, along with inefficiencies lost in the chaos of the staff’s stretched bandwidth. But under capacity means wasted resources and high operating costs. 

To reach maximum efficiency without sacrificing compassionate care, the first focus should be on opening up congestion through scheduling consistency.5 Understandably, all hospitals have a natural ebb and flow of high days and low days, but by managing the extreme peaks and lows, administrators can plan resources appropriately against actual needs. Through consistent, well-planned days, staff can do their job without being overburdened and give patients the personal attention they need.

Rethink the Patient Intake Process

The many steps involved in processing new patients can put a resource strain on operations — but consider it from the patient’s perspective too. Whether the patient is newly diagnosed with cancer or is in ongoing treatment, patients want to be seen as soon as possible.6 

The staff at the University of Southern California (USC) Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and Hospital recognized this when they worked with GE Healthcare Partners to reduce their 12-day intake process to just six days7 After noticing a pattern of no-shows at appointments, the center reorganized intakes to assign staff to specific programs.

With each intake specialist dedicated to just a few types of cancer, the specialists became masters in their area and could better navigate patients with complex medical histories and needs. As a result, patients had the benefit of one intake contact with them throughout their relationship with USC Norris and no-shows dropped by 36 percent.

Find Compassionate Answers to Operational Questions

Sometimes empathetic care can solve efficiency challenges through creative, out-of-the-box thinking. When GE Healthcare’s Doug Dietz learned that his high-powered MRI machine terrified pediatric patients to the point where 80 percent required sedation, he got creative. By wrapping the machine with colorful imagery and turning the MRI into a fun-filled adventure centered on the child as the hero, kids completely changed their reaction to what they saw as the big, bad MRI machine. Known as the MR Adventure Discovery Series, this program decreased patient sedations and increased patient satisfaction. In turn, the hospital could increase the number of patients scanned each day.8

Over the years, other oncology providers have found equally creative and effective ways to improve efficiency without losing a personal touch. The University of Texas Medical Branch used simulation technology9 to test new ideas and see how they’d impact patients and frontline nurses. Other hospitals have turned to imaging equipment that reduces the image review process from 10 days to minutes,10 shortening waitlist times for patients. And for others, cloud-based technology has allowed doctors to examine large amounts of patient data to tweak their practices and not only see financial benefits, but also open up more time to provide better patient care.11



  1. Patient Experience Seen as Crucial in Breast Cancer Diagnosis Process. GE Healthcare. http://newsroom.gehealthcare.com/patient-experience-seen-as-crucial-in-breast-cancer-diagnosis-process/. Accessed April 5, 2018.
  2. MEPs Against Cancer seminar: outcomes report. All.Can. http://www.all-can.org/news-story/mac-seminar-outcomes-report/. Accessed April 5, 2018.
  3. Out of Control: How clinical asset proliferation and low utilization are draining healthcare budgets. GE Healthcare. http://www3.gehealthcare.com/~/media/services/resources/out_of_control_cost_analysis-wp-doc1106527.pdf. Accessed April 5, 2018.
  4. Patient Flow Optimization. GE Healthcare. http://www3.gehealthcare.com/en/services/healthcare_technology_management/patient_flow_optimization. Accessed April 5, 2018.
  5. Scheduling Tool Improves Infusion Center Efficiency. Targeted Oncology. http://www.targetedonc.com/news/scheduling-tool-improves-infusion-center-efficiency. Accessed June 19, 2018.
  6. Wait times from diagnosis to treatment in cancer. Journal of Gynecologic Oncology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4620358/. Accessed June 19, 2018.
  7. Existing Case Study Data, GE Healthcare.
  8. From Terrifying to Terrific: The Creative Journey of the Adventure Series. GE Healthcare. http://newsroom.gehealthcare.com/from-terrifying-to-terrific-creative-journey-of-the-adventure-series/. Accessed April 5, 2018.
  9. Existing Case Study Data, GE Healthcare.
  10. Image archiving and cloud visualization tool helps speed part of the process of determining the compatibility of kidney donors and recipients….from 10 days to just minutes. GE Healthcare. http://newsroom.gehealthcare.com/faster-match-shorter-wait-digital-solution-improving-experience-kidney-transplant/. Accessed April 5, 2018.
  11. How Low Can a Hospital’s Flow Go? GE Healthcare. http://newsroom.gehealthcare.com/how-low-can-a-hospitals-flow-go-himss18/. Accessed April 5, 2018.