Improving Clinical Workflow

The key to improving profitability in hospitals is improving clinical workflow. Workflow is a process consisting of a series of tasks that must be completed to achieve a particular goal, which in healthcare means the delivery of clinical services.

There is considerable waste in healthcare. Resources are often underutilized, many tasks are conducted manually when there is potential for automation, and there is often considerable repetition of tasks. It has been estimated that around 40% of clinical office work involves redundant tasks and wasted effort and clinicians often end up wasting a considerable amount of their working day as a result of inefficient processes and outmoded communication methods.

Optimizing clinical workflows eliminates waste and allows hospitals to use their resources more efficiently, which translates into improved patient flow, better bed utilization, and the delivery of higher quality care to patients.

Improving clinical workflow can be a challenge. Any changes made by senior management to fine-tune hospital workflows are likely to affect everyone in the hospital environment. Before making changes to workflow it is essential to explain the reason for the changes to the staff directly affected and to get then to buy in to the change. If clinical staff are unhappy with the changes it will be much harder to achieve goals and changes may even have a negative effect on ROI.

Improving Clinical Workflow is About Eliminating Waste

Improving clinical workflow is not about dictating how clinicians and other hospital staff should do their job. The aim is to assess workflow to identify areas where improvements can be made to improve efficiency, such as eliminating repetition of tasks and redundant processes. By improving clinical workflow, clinicians will be able to complete tasks in less time or with less effort, reduce the time waiting for others to complete tasks, communicate and collaborate more efficiently, and deliver better care to patients.

Electronic health records (EHRs) were billed as a solution to help healthcare providers deliver higher quality care by improving clinical workflow. One of the goals of EHRs was to improve efficiency, yet many healthcare professionals believe EHRs have had the opposite effect. A survey by The Doctors Company on more than 3,400 physicians found 61% of respondents believed EHRs had a negative effect on productivity and actually stopped them working efficiently. One of the main problems is a lack of interoperability. In healthcare, technologies such as EHRs have been implemented in silos. Each technology has the potential to improve efficiency, but the full benefits are not realized as the systems do not talk to each other.

EHRs do ensure that a legible, accurate and complete patient record is maintained and coding and billing are streamlined. They also help healthcare providers meet their business goals, but there is certainly plenty of room for improvement to get EHRs working better for clinicians.

Updating Communication Systems is Critical to Improving Clinical Workflow

One of the biggest drains of productivity in healthcare is reliance on outmoded communication methods such as pagers, faxes, landlines, and email. Other industries have embraced modern communication technologies, but healthcare is well behind the curve. 1 in 4 hospitals relies on pagers to communicate with physicians, 90% of hospitals use fax machines, and email is still used for communicating critical information. One study suggested 75% of medical communication occurs by fax, even though faxing can easily result in errors and causes delays in communicating important information.

For instance, faxes are sent, and must be collected and collated, fax pages must then be scanned and manually added to the EHR. The original faxes must then be shredded. That is far from an efficient process. It is a similar story with pagers. A page is sent to a physician who must then switch to a landline and call in. It is difficult to prioritize call backs as there is no context to the messages and all too often when physicians call in a game of phone tag is started.

These communication systems are a major cause of frustration among doctors, nurses and other hospital employees and result in a considerable amount of wasted time. It has been suggested that a hospital doctor wastes around 45 minutes a day as a direct result of inefficient communication systems and a typical 500 bed hospital loses around $4 million a year as a result of these outmoded communication methods.

Improving clinical workflow should therefore start with the replacement of these dated and inefficient communication methods and introduction of a modern communication system conducive to efficient clinical workflow.

Improving Clinical Workflow with Clinical Communication and Collaboration Solutions

Clinical Communication and Collaboration (CC&C) solutions are critical to the process of improving clinical workflow and are a direct replacement for pagers, faxes, and email. The technology is built around mobile devices and consists of a HIPAA-compliant text messaging application that can be used by clinicians to communicate efficiently and effectively.

Secure text messaging is much faster than paging, faxing and email. Rather than having to rely on a landline or computer for communication, clinicians can communicate without being tied to one location. The platforms support voice and video calls and allow files such as medical images to be sent. The platforms also support telemedicine and can be used to communicate with patients after discharge.

The implementation of a CC&C solution will not change clinical workflow, but it will allow hospitals to fine-tune hospital workflows and eliminate a considerable amount of waste. The platforms allow faster, more effective communication which means clinicians can treat more patients in less time. Improvements to communication efficiency means patient flow can be increased and quality of care can be improved, which has a positive effect on patient satisfaction. Also, by eliminating the frustration caused by outdated communication systems staff productivity and morale is improved.

Hospitals that have implemented a CC&C solution have managed to reduce wait times, ease bottlenecks that hamper patient flow, reduce patient transfer times, accelerate admissions and discharges, make faster clinical decisions, improve patient safety, and achieve better patient outcomes with fewer readmissions.