Healthcare Workflow Management

Fine-tuning healthcare workflow management to make improvements in efficiency, productivity, and profitability can be a difficult task, but when successful, resources can be used more effectively, stress can be reduced, and patient throughput, patient satisfaction and clinical outcomes can be significantly improved.

The Importance of Healthcare Workflow Management

The transition from files and charts to electronic medical record systems has helped ensure patient information is readily accessible at the point of care. EHRs are a central repository for all patient data and ensure accurate and up to date information is always available to inform healthcare decisions.

EHRs have helped to improve productivity and efficiency, but EHRs alone are not the solution. Without effective healthcare workflow management and efficient and effective communications systems, it is difficult to unlock the full potential of EHRs.

Healthcare workflow management to fine-tune hospital workflows is essential for removing redundancies that unnecessarily eat up hospital resources, delay the provision of medical care, and slow patient throughput. Effective workflow management can streamline workflows and has been shown to reduce the potential for medical errors, help to ensure compliance with industry regulations such as HIPAA, and improve the quality of care provided to patients.

Making Changes to Healthcare Workflows

Even small changes to workflows can have a major impact on employees. Decisions made by senior managers often have a negative impact on staff morale, negating the benefits of healthcare workflow management.

When considering making changes to healthcare workflows it is essential that the reasons for workflow changes are effectively communicated to staff and for managers to get buy-in from everyone involved in the workflow.

When the reasons for the changes are not understood, staff may look for possible workarounds which can introduce compliance risks. All it takes is for one individual to continue to work in the same way as before and any benefits to workflow changes can easily be lost.

Following any changes in healthcare workflow management it is important to closely monitor the results to determine if the changes are having the desired effect, and to conduct internal audits to make sure everyone is working as they should.

While fine-tuning workflows is often the solution, it may be necessary to start from scratch and totally redesign workflows to achieve the desired results and obtain near optimal efficiency. This may be the only option if fine-tuning does not result in more streamlined workflows, a reduced burden on staff, and measurable improvements in productivity and efficiency.

Outdated Communications Systems Hamper Effective Healthcare Workflow Management

Many healthcare systems have taken steps to improve healthcare workflow management and automate processes but are let down by outdated and ineffective communication systems. Communication and collaboration are major elements of healthcare workflows and are integral to smooth operations, but the use of pagers, faxes, email, and voicemail does not make for efficient communication.

A great deal of time is wasted by nurses and physicians chasing up pages, emails, and voicemail messages which is a cause of considerable frustration and wastes valuable resources. Every minute wasted chasing up pages, following up on unreturned calls, and playing phone take is a minute taken away from face-to-face time with patients.

Various studies have been conducted on the impact of outdated communication systems such as pagers on healthcare workflows. One analysis, published in the Journal of Healthcare Management, suggests a 500-bed hospital loses over $4 million each year due to communication inefficiencies, with hospital physicians wasting around 45 minutes a day due to inefficient communications systems.

In many healthcare facilities, communication problems have led healthcare workers to resort to tried and tested communication platforms that they used outside of work such as SMS messages or chat platforms such as WhatsApp, and by doing so, risk violations of HIPAA Rules.

How Clinical Communication Platforms Can Improve Healthcare Workflows

Improving communication is a key part of healthcare workflow management, and one of the areas where significant gains can be made. Workflows exist for all communication processes, but the continued use of outdated communications systems mean those workflows often don’t run smoothly. Modern healthcare communication and collaboration platforms solve the problems created in healthcare workflows by pagers, faxes, and email and help to significantly accelerate clinical workflows, improve patient safety, and result in better clinical outcomes.

Modern clinical communication platforms can be accessed on smartphones, tablets, and desktops and support text, voice, and video calls. While text messages are often the easiest way of communicating, calls can be escalated into a voice or video call instantly, without having to change to a landline.

Delays providing patient care are inevitable if clinicians do not have easy access to the right information, about the right patient, at the right time. Clinical communication platforms ensure that all members of the care team are provided with accurate, up to date patient information in a timely manner. Automatic alerts can be configured to notify physicians and nurses the second test results are in, even if they are not interacting with their EHR and when clinicians have easy access to the information they need, patients can be provided with better, timelier care.

More effective and efficient communication has a major impact on patient safety. One study conducted by the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University showed a reduction in patient safety events of 27% when clinical communication solutions and text messaging platforms are integrated with EHRs.

In all areas of hospitals, improvements can be made to workflows with clinical communication and collaboration platforms. Users of these platforms report improvements in staff morale, significant cost savings, faster patient throughput, fewer medical errors, and improvements in the patient experience and patient satisfaction scores.

Healthcare Workflow Management FAQs

How do personnel access messages from the platform?

Each authorized user downloads a secure messaging app onto their mobile device. When the app receives a message from the platform, the device alerts the user via a push notification. The user logs into the messaging app to read the message and can reply through the app in much the same as they would if they were using a messaging service such as WhatsApp.

From a user perspective, what is the difference between a secure messaging app and WhatsApp?

From a user perspective, there are very few differences between a secure messaging app and WhatsApp. The differences users will notice most are the requirement to log in every time the app is used, automatic timeout after a period of inactivity, and the inability to add contacts to the contact list – as this capability is only available at administrator level.

Are these features what make secure messaging platforms HIPAA-compliant?

These features are among many that make secure messaging platforms HIPAA-compliant. For example, administrators can remotely wipe ePHI from users´ apps or PIN-lock apps if devices are lost, sold, or stolen. Furthermore, the platform creates an audit trail for every communication – which is not only a requirement of HIPAA, but improves accountability to assist with healthcare workflow management.

Should the apps only be used by medical personnel?

While secure messaging apps provide medical personnel with a channel of communication through which they can send and receive ePHI in compliance with HIPAA, the platforms can also be used to enhance communications with non-medical personnel who are also involved in healthcare workflows – for example environmental services personnel.

Do patients have to download apps in order to speak with doctors?

Although it is possible to conduct face-to-face consultations via the platform, it is probably more practical if doctor-patient communications are conducted using existing messaging channels patients are more familiar with. The requirement to log in for every medical communication might reassure some patients, but it might dissuade others from seeking medical advice.