Optimizing Patient Workflow in Hospitals

One of the most effective ways of improving the quality of care provided to patients is optimizing patient workflow. In healthcare, there are often delays admitting and discharging patients, there are long wait times for x-rays and MRIs, and further delays waiting for test results, doctors, and specialists. Patients and providers alike are used to these delays, which are often viewed as part of the healthcare process.

These delays slow patient flow through a hospital, delay essential care, and when patient throughput is hampered, bed utilization is far from optimal. The delays to patient flow through a hospital can negatively affect patient satisfaction scores, and that can have financial implications for a hospital. Any delay to the provision of care can also place patient safety at risk and negatively affect health outcomes.

Benefits of Optimizing Patient Workflow in Hospitals

Optimizing patient workflow is concerned with removing inefficiencies to decrease the time taken for a patient to move from admission to treatment and discharge. By removing constraints and reducing bottlenecks, patient flow through a hospital will be improved, as will bed optimization and patient satisfaction.

When patient workflow is optimized, hospitals can match their resources to admissions and the precious time of clinicians will be put to full use. One possible solution for hospitals trying to optimize patient workflow is to hire additional staff. This can certainly help to ease bottlenecks at certain stages of the patient journey, but bottlenecks are still likely to occur at other stages of the patient journey, such as in post-operative units.

The key to success and improving patient throughput is to make changes to improve efficiency through the entire care continuum, which means streamlining patient admissions and handoffs, optimizing discharges, improving scheduling, and to create processes that facilitate good patient flow.

When patient workflow is inefficient, there is considerable waste, which greatly reduces ROI. Physicians and nurses fully understand their time is extremely precious, and any time wasted means less face to face time with patients providing quality care. Eliminating the waste and improving efficiency results in better resource utilization, and happier staff and patients, which can translate into better clinical outcomes.

Fine-tuning hospital workflows can be a delicate business. Attempts are often made by senior management at optimizing patient workflow, without full consultation with the clinicians concerned. The effect of this can be disgruntled staff, which makes it much harder to achieve optimization goals. There will certainly be challenges to overcome, but even relatively small changes to workflow to improve efficiency can pay dividends.

By concentrating on areas where bottlenecks are occurring, exploring the reasons for those bottlenecks, and working closely with the clinicians concerned, workflows can be successfully tweaked to significantly improve patient flow.

Improving Clinical Communication is Key to Optimizing Patient Workflow

One of the best places to start when optimizing patient workflow is to address one of the biggest problem areas on hospitals: Poor communication. That is not to say that clinicians are poor communicators, rather it is the communication systems in hospitals that are to blame. Inefficient communication impedes clinical workflows and is a major source of frustration for staff and patients alike, and one of the biggest issues hampering patient flow.

Communication problems are common in hospitals. There are countless occasions when nurses have to chase up pages and make repeated phone calls to reach a physician. Physicians often need a quick consult with a specialist, but just miss them. Messages are left and pages sent, which triggers a game of phone tag and more wasted time.

Studies have shown that a typical hospital doctor wastes an average of 45 minutes a day as a direct result of inefficient communication systems in hospitals. One study published in the journal of healthcare management suggested an average 500-bed hospital in the United States wastes around $4 million each year due to communication inefficiencies. If the waste can be eliminated, or at least be significantly reduced, patient care and ROI can both be improved.

Clinical Communication and Collaboration Platforms Help with Optimizing Patient Workflow

Taking the first step toward optimizing patient workflow should therefore be replacing outdated communication methods such as faxes and pagers and reducing reliance on landlines. The solution is to adopt a much more modern text-message based communication system.

Clinical communication and collaboration platforms allow clinicians to communicate efficiently using text messages sent from their mobile devices. Instead of one-way communication through pagers, text messages allow context to be added to communications, allowing physicians to easily prioritize calls. The platforms allow detailed information to be instantly communicated, files can be shared, and text messages can easily be escalated to voice and video calls, without having to switch platforms.

The platforms can integrate with EHRs and third-party systems, helping to close the gaps in EHR functionality. When test results come in, the EHR does not need to be checked to see the results. Alerts can be generated by the EHR which are pushed out to care team members.

Hospitals that have adopted HIPAA-compliant text messaging and clinical communication and collaboration platforms report that they have helped with optimizing patient workflow, resulting in improvements in patient throughput, greater bed utilization, improved patient satisfaction scores, and better patient outcomes.