Clinical Workflows in Healthcare

Clinical workflows in healthcare are defined as a set of repeatable tasks that must be performed in order by clinicians to allow the delivery of clinical services. While clinical workflows are designed to make the best use of clinicians’ time and ensure a good patient experience, there is often considerable duplication of tasks and substantial waste. Some studies suggest as much as 40% of a clinician’s time is lost due to inefficient workflows, poor communication, repetitive tasks, or redundant processes.

When workflows are fine-tuned, repetition of tasks and admin work can be reduced, resources can be better utilized, and wastage can be eliminated. That translates into cost savings for healthcare providers and clinicians can spend more face-to-face with patents and provide better quality care.

Fine-Tuning Clinical Workflows in Healthcare

One of the best places to start when attempting to fine-tune clinical workflows is to identify rate-limiting steps that are negatively affecting patient throughput. From the time a patient arrives at a hospital through to discharge, a patient will have to interact with many different hospital employees and visit multiple departments.

There will be many stages of the patient journey where a bottleneck could occur, and that will have an impact on many other departments. There may be delays in admission, patients may have to wait for rooms to be available, there could be a backlog in radiology, or test results may be delayed. Delays are inevitable at certain times due to staff shortages or other factors, but there are often regular bottlenecks at set points in a patient journey.

By identifying the areas where bottlenecks occur, changes can be made to either make more resources available at pinch points or make improvements to clinical workflows to ease the burden on staff.

When delays are occurring due to availability of staff, hiring more staff in that department may not be the best solution. Consider looking at the tasks that are being performed to see if there is scope for delegation to other members of staff that are not as busy. Only by identifying the bottlenecks and addressing the causes of those bottlenecks will it be possible to streamline workflows and improve patient throughput.

There is often considerable duplication of tasks in hospitals. Redundancy is built into hospital workflows to improve patient safety, but oftentimes repetition of tasks can be eliminated or certainly reduced without negatively impacting patient safety. Many bottlenecks can be eased by eliminating repetition and redundancy.

Technology can help, but often hinders in practice when systems cannot fully integrate. When systems are not fully interoperable, tasks need to be repeated across different applications. Look for solutions that integrate through APIs to eliminate these repetitive admin tasks and automate processes as far as possible.

Communication and Collaboration Platforms Help to Accelerate Clinical Workflows in Healthcare

Inefficient workflows are frustrating for staff and patients alike, and one of the biggest causes of frustration in hospitals is poor communication. Physicians, nurses, and other clinical staff may be excellent communicators, but communications systems in hospitals often let them down and result in considerable wastage.

Many hospitals are still heavily reliant on outdated communication technologies such as pagers, faxes and email, even though modern communication solutions are available that streamline communication. One in 4 hospitals in the United States still uses pagers for communicating with physicians. A pager is a one-way communication device. A physician receives a page, they must then find a landline or call in on their mobile, and oftentimes, the person they need to speak to is on another call and a game of phone tag begins. 90% of hospitals are still using faxes for communication, even though they are not conducive to efficient communication. Some studies suggest that on average, a physician wasted 45 minutes a day due to inefficient communication systems – Time that could be spent providing care to patients.

Replacing pagers and faxes and implementing a modern communication solution is arguably the single most important step to take to improve clinical workflows in healthcare.

Benefits of Clinical Communication and Collaboration Platforms

Clinical communication and collaboration (CC&C) platforms have greatly improved communication efficiency in healthcare and have allowed many hospitals to finally retire pagers and virtually eliminate faxes. CC&C platforms are app based and can be accessed on smartphones, eliminating the need for landlines. The platforms allow 2-way communication and support text messaging, voice, and video calls. Messages can be sent and responses received without both parties having to be free at the same time. Responses can be prioritized during busy times as context is provided with each communication.

Many platforms also seamlessly integrate with EHRs. Data can be sent to the EHR from the app, eliminating admin time and alerts can be sent from the EHR to the app. Physicians will receive a notification the second test results are in, without having to use a computer to login to the EHR. They also allow information to be instantly shared with all members of the care team, improve patient handoffs, and reduce communication errors.

CC&C solutions integrate with scheduling, so it is always possible to find the right person at the right time, without having to check the whiteboard or scheduling spreadsheet, thus expediting communication workflows.

CC&C solutions help to optimize clinical workflows in healthcare, eliminate wastage, and improve communication efficiency. Healthcare providers that have adopted CC&C platforms have managed to reduce medical errors, achieve better bed utilization, speed patient transfer times and improve patient throughput. All of which help to drive down the cost of healthcare, improve patient satisfaction, and even improve clinical outcomes.