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Aug 08, 2019

What hospital operations can learn from Air Traffic Control

Estimated reading time: 6-8 minutes

Air Traffic Control is there to prevent collisions, organize and aid the flow of air traffic, while at the same time providing information and additional support for pilots. While all flights are scheduled, there is not a day goes by that every flight comes in on time. It’s a high stress environment, with many variables and externalities that could go wrong. There is a constant need to optimize the flow and synchronize activities between the flights and airport facilities, such as runways, gates, crews and ground handling.


There is no room for mistakes. Everybody needs to speak the same language. If communications between the control tower and pilot are ambiguous, dangerous situations can arise. This is made more critical by the fact that more and more planes take to the skies. The stress on the system is growing steadily, and since we’re not building new airports, the existing network needs increasingly sophisticated tools to keep up with the load placed upon it. State-of-the-art airports, like Changi Airport in Singapore, now use computer vision in addition to radar, laser and other sensors to track planes, runways and the environment in real-time. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is being applied to dynamic optimization issues in support of air traffic controllers, pilots and ground crews. In addition, Air Traffic Towers are increasingly being digitized and virtualized.


When you think about it, it’s not dissimilar to optimizing acute care. The problems to solve are easy to state, but hard to resolve. How can we optimally match demand and supply?  What care needs to be provided on location and what can be done remotely?  Patients’ conditions and medical needs are highly dynamic, specifically in acute care settings, requiring constant interventions and adjustments. 

The virtualization of services addresses the gaps seen in a traditional brick-and-mortar model. Insights gleaned from these intelligent technologies allow care providers to better predict the “demand” for care based on a patient acuity.

Jeroen Tas

Chief Innovation & Strategy Officer at Philips

Considering factors such as an increasing need for comprehensive healthcare services, provider consolidation, a growing shortage of skilled professional, and tighter operating margins, it’s clear that smarter matching of demand and supply will have a major impact on patient experience and outcomes, operational excellence and staff satisfaction. In the digital hospital, care is integrated across the network and the patient flow optimized. Exploiting its benefits will free up healthcare providers (HCPs) to deliver better patient care while also improving operations in healthcare settings.


Current command centers tend to focus on capacity and the availability of resources. They solve an important subset of the problems but are not addressing the overall drive towards better patient outcomes through (virtual) care collaboration. Both HCP resources and the patient’s clinical condition and acuity need to be balanced. NY Presbyterian took this approach when setting up its state-of-the-art “Clinical Operations Center”. The program has seen amazing results since its introduction and gradual expansion.


Like flight paths, patient pathways are complex and prone to shifting. By addressing some of this complexity and giving HCPs deeper insights, the opportunity to become substantially more efficient presents itself.  At Philips, we have built up expertise to feed a Clinical Operations Center with information and decision support to locate resources and their availability and to enable patients to transfer across care settings more efficiently, based on knowledge of their clinical status. With solutions to help clinicians care for patients pre-admission to hospitals, during acute care and into post-discharge care, a Clinical Operations Center helps drive better outcomes.


The foundation for the Clinical Operations Center philosophy is provided by HealthSuite, the open platform to integrate and analyze clinical data across applications, systems and devices, both inside and outside the hospital. From this data you can generate real-time actionable analytics and proactive recommendations to help ensure patients are monitored 24/7 and transitioned to the most appropriate care setting at the right time.


For example, the eICU combines remote monitoring by skilled professionals with algorithms and clinical decision support. We have seen studies where a 54% decrease in mortality rate1 and 20% faster discharges from the ICU were observed. This proven critical care telehealth program exemplifies the opportunities technology offers via continuous monitoring, predictive analytics and support bed management. 

Digital real-time performance dashboards provide at-a-glance visibility into past and current performance including volume and arrival patterns, as well as patient trends. McLeod Health Clarendon Hospital in the U.S. significantly improved its performance metrics after implementing this technology (supported by consultancy services) for their Emergency Department: an 87.5% reduction in arrival-to-triage time2 and a 51.5% reduction in arrival-to-provider time2. Additional telemetry and population health management programs can then support patients post-discharge and enables enhancement of care pathways with proactive at home monitoring and virtual support of patients using two-way video. Key element of such programs is to allow family and community-based care teams, to track the health of loved ones or patients.


The virtualization of services addresses the gaps seen in a traditional brick-and-mortar model. Insights gleaned from these intelligent technologies allow care providers to better predict the “demand” for care based on a patient acuity. This type of visibility means that centralized care models can be shaped to better match supply and demand along the care continuum. These integrated and aggregated data touch-points will transform care operations and drive efficiencies.


If physicians, nurses and patients work together, sharing a common language and real-time information to improve on the quadruple aim, then we will see a more productive and effective system emerging. I see forward-thinking HCPs taking the lead to make a more seamless patient experience and optimized pathways the new reality. These digital HCPs will be there to guide our flight path towards better health outcomes.




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Jeroen Tas

Jeroen Tas

Chief Innovation & Strategy Officer

Jeroen is an experienced global executive and entrepreneur with a track record of leading innovation in the healthcare, information technology and financial services industries. Leading the company’s global Innovation & Strategy organization, he’s responsible for creating a pipeline of innovative business propositions that address emerging customer needs and enable a high-growth, profitable health continuum strategy.

Click here to read more on Jeroen Tas

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