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Improving Clinical Staff Workflow in Hospitals

Improving clinical staff workflow in hospitals helps strengthen patient outcomes, improves staff morale, and reduces bottlenecks that impede patient flow through the hospital. Inefficient workflows are a major cause of waste in healthcare and reduce the time clinicians spend face to face with patients.

Inefficient workflows are a common cause of frustration among healthcare staff, which reduces morale and contributes to burnout, which is all too common in the healthcare industry. Patients also grow weary of inefficient processes which increase the time they have to spend in hospital. Patients often face delays at all stages of their journey from admission to discharge. Those delays are a key factor contributing to poor patient satisfaction scores.

Ultimately, inefficient workflows have a negative impact on patient outcomes and increased readmissions.

Improving clinical staff workflow in hospitals can be a challenge, but even small changes to workflows to eliminate duplicate tasks and improve communication can make an important difference. Fine-tuning workflows means better resource utilization, which improves profitability and helps to drive down the cost of healthcare provision. Patient delays are reduced as bottlenecks are eliminated, which speeds patient throughput. Improvements in patient flow means patients spend less time in hospital, which means better bed utilization.

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Simple Steps to Improve Clinical Staff Workflow

There are several simple steps that can be taken to improve clinical staff workflow in hospitals and remove bottlenecks that hamper patient flow. It may not be possible to totally eliminate bottlenecks in hospitals, but there are likely to be several areas where workflows can be tweaked, and repetitive tasks can be automated to some degree.

Reviewing workflows and identifying areas where improvements can be made can reduce the burden on staff and help to improve patient flow. There are many duplicate processes in hospitals that exist to ensure patient safety, but there may be several areas where intermediate steps can be removed, without placing patient safety at risk.

Many hospitals that have taken steps to improve clinical workflow have found that one area where significant gains can be made is by improving communication systems. 1 in 4 hospitals are still using pagers to communicate with physicians and 90% of hospitals still use faxes, even though modern, more efficient communications tools have been available for years. Hospital staff are still heavily reliant on landlines, even through mobile technology is ubiquitous and is used extensively for communication in virtually all other industry sectors.

Communication problems in hospitals are more than just a source of frustration, they can seriously affect patient safety. If physicians do not have the necessary information at hand to inform treatment decisions, mistakes can be made. In many cases, it is not a case of information not being available, it is just not being delivered to the right person at the right time. Policies and procedures have been developed to ensure patient information is correctly handed over at shift changes, but a great deal of time is wasted during patient handoffs which could be put to much better use.

It is no surprise that a great deal of valuable time is being lost as a result of inefficient communication technology. It has been suggested that a hospital physician wastes around 45 minutes a day as a result of inefficient communication systems in hospitals. That equates to a loss of around $4 million a year for a typical 500-bed hospital. Communication errors are also a major cause of medical mistakes. A study by the joint Commission found that 60% of medical errors can be directly attributed to communication failures.

Streamlining Clinical Staff Workflow with Modern Communication Tools

Healthcare communication and collaboration platforms based on text messaging have been successfully introduced in many hospitals and have helped streamline clinical staff workflow. Rather than relying on one-way communication using pagers, text messages are used to provide information that helps physicians prioritize call backs.

The platforms can be used to communicate important information to clinicians at patients’ bedsides, for quick consults with physicians, and to communicate patient data with all members of the care team. The platforms can be used to obtain lab results, organize the transition of care, and arrange patient discharges, and even communicate directly with patients for follow ups after discharge.

The platforms integrate with EHRs and ensure that alerts are sent directly to clinicians when test results are in, which means clinicians do not need to constantly check the EHR to find important patient information. Patient handoffs are improved, as a record is kept of all data related to the patient, which can be accurately passed on at shift changes.

Healthcare communication and collaboration platforms can also be integrated into scheduling systems to ensure that contact can easily be made with the correct role owner, such as an on-call cardiologist, without having to refer to a spreadsheet or printout.

Hospitals that have adopted these platforms have been able to streamline clinical staff workflow and improve efficiency. Hospitals also report improvements in bed optimization, reduced patient transfer times, accelerated patient throughput, and improvements in patient and staff satisfaction.