Explore our Topics:

AI brings the virtual command center back

The virtual command center is like “air traffic control for hospitals” and is addressing inefficiencies exposed at the height of the pandemic.
By admin
Apr 6, 2023, 12:08 PM

It’s no secret that virtual care sustained healthcare in the early days of the pandemic. As interest in provider-to-patient telehealth flattens amid the return to in-person care, hospitals are turning their attention to technology to manage the patients within their walls. That has put the virtual command center, described by Deloitte as “air traffic control for hospitals,” back in the spotlight – with an assist from artificial intelligence (AI). 

The virtual command center is meant to serve both clinical and operational purposes. Within it, hospitals can see which rooms are ready to accept a patient and put through transfers from one department to another. Once roomed, command centers staff can monitor patients, receive alerts, and communicate with clinical staff. Patients spend less time waiting to be admitted, while hospitals can see more patients since fewer rooms lie vacant. Over time, insights about utilization patterns can help hospitals schedule staff and otherwise use resources more efficiently. 

Johns Hopkins Medicine notably opened its virtual command center in 2016. The next year, Deloitte deemed it a feature of the hospital of the future. In 2018, KLAS Research published its market report on command centers. KLAS noted at the time that few organizations had gone live, but 78% of those that had reported positive financial outcomes and 96% saw improvements to patient flow. 

The pandemic put a stop to non-essential technology investment, and the virtual command center was no exception. However, as Frost & Sullivan pointed out in late 2020, the inpatient inefficiencies laid bare during the pandemic – namely, shortages of critical care beds, medical devices, and personal protective equipment (PPE) – only heightened the value proposition for the virtual command center. 

Since then, health systems such as Baptist Memorial Health Care and Cleveland Clinic have announced technology partnerships to expand their virtual command centers. Key to both hospital’s plans, and largely absent from virtual command center conversations several years ago, is the role of AI – another lesson learned from COVID-19, as data related to capacity planning, contact tracing, disease surveillance, PPE supply chains, and vaccine availability proved immensely valuable but also difficult to manage. 

Baptist is focused on continuous video monitoring, with AI systems analyzing patient behavior and the room environment and alerting staff when interventions may be needed. This sets the stage for the virtual command center to support the entire hospital, not just the inpatient unit. Cleveland Clinic, for its part, is using AI to help provide real-time recommendations for operational decisions such as staff levels or resource allocation, with the goal of allowing the health system to see more patients each day. 

Research has also shown that the virtual command center’s reach can in fact extend beyond hospital walls. A recent paper in BMC Health Services Research showed that the Mayo Clinic’s virtual command center, where clinical staff monitor patients in the hospital and at home (with an assist from a third-party home care provider), achieved “favorable outcomes of low mortality and hospital readmissions,” with outcomes similar in both rural and urban settings. 

Brian Eastwood is a Boston-based writer with more than 10 years of experience covering healthcare IT and healthcare delivery. He also writes about enterprise IT, consumer technology, and corporate leadership.

Show Your Support


Newsletter Logo

Subscribe to our topic-centric newsletters to get the latest insights delivered to your inbox weekly.

Enter your information below

By submitting this form, you are agreeing to DHI’s Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.