Healthcare Workflow Management

Healthcare workflow management can be a major challenge. In healthcare, there are many processes and procedures related to patient care that must be performed by clinical and non-clinical staff concurrently and sequentially, and all must be HIPAA-compliant. All staff members will have their own workflow that intersects with the workflow of many other members of staff. If problems are experienced in one workflow, they will naturally have a knock-on effect on others. Even small inefficiencies can have a big effect in profitability, patient and staff satisfaction, and patient outcomes.

Managing healthcare workflows can be difficult for healthcare providers of all sizes, but the larger the healthcare facility, the more complex healthcare workflow management becomes. Healthcare providers will have developed workflows that are effective, but all too often there are inefficiencies mean resources are not used to their full potential. Poor healthcare workflow management frequently results in bottlenecks that slow patient throughput, long wait times for patients, poor bed utilization, and increased work for staff.

Improving Healthcare Workflow Management

Senior managers are often tasked with improving efficiency, reducing wastage, and maximizing ROI, which can seem like a daunting task. Even a small change to one workflow could have implications for many other people and departments in a hospital, so any proposed changes need to be carefully considered. Staff will be used to working a certain way that allows them to get the job done. They may be reluctant to change to a new way of working, and changes often lead to unhappy staff. It is therefore important to clearly explain to the staff concerned why the changes are being made, how they will improve efficiency, and what benefits will be achieved from making the changes.

Improving healthcare workflow management primarily involves making small changes that can have an big impact on productivity and efficiency, and the easiest place to start is to evaluate current workflows to discover where bottlenecks are occurring, where time is being wasted through repetition or manual time-consuming tasks, and to find out what processes are irritating staff and patients. It will likely be possible to make minor tweaks to existing workflows which can have a disproportionate positive effect on efficiency and productivity.

One of the easiest ways to find out where time is being lost is to create a flow chart showing patient movement through a facility and analyzing patient flow to identify areas where bottlenecks are occurring. There will always be a rate limiting step that is hampering patient flow. Once the bottlenecks have been identified and the issues causing delays are known, by brainstorming with staff it should be possible to identify a new way of working that is more efficient.

Technology is an Essential Part of Good Healthcare Workflow Management

Technology should be used at every opportunity to automate manual, repetitive tasks. A great deal of a clinician’s time was spent on paperwork and searching for information prior to the introduction of electronic health record systems (EHRs). While EHRs are not perfect, through the elimination of paperwork and by storing information centrally, hospitals have been able to work more efficiently. Any technology that can be used to automate a manual process will free up time that can be put to better use – providing care to patients.

One area where major productivity gains can be made is replacing outdated, inefficient healthcare communication systems. Many hospitals are still using pagers to communicate with clinical staff, landlines are extensively used, and many hospitals are still heavily reliant on faxes and emails for communicating information. One study indicated a typical hospital physician wastes around 45 minutes a day due to insufficient communication systems such as pagers and landlines. Scale that up and a typical 500-bed hospital wastes around $4 million a year. A study published in the Journal of Healthcare Management suggests around $12 billion is being lost each year due to inefficient communication in healthcare.

Solving Communication Inefficiencies in Healthcare

An area where such high losses are occurring should be the first place to start with healthcare workflow management. HIPAA compliant mobile communication platforms offer a solution. By adopting these platforms, which work in a similar but more secure fashion to SMS text messages, messages can be sent to the mobile devices that clinicians are already carrying in their pockets.

These systems allow hospitals to retire pagers and move to an efficient two-way communication system and are a key element of good healthcare workflow management. Clinicians are already familiar with the systems as they look and feel like consumer messaging platforms, so there is little need for training. Many of these solutions also integrate with EHRs and can receive alerts instantly test results are in. Information can also be sent directly to the EHR, without having to retype it. Through integrations with EHRs and other hospital systems, communication accuracy is improved, helping to reduce the potential for medical errors and improve patient safety.

In contrast to many technology solutions that have great promise but fail to live up to expectations, healthcare organizations that have adopted these communications systems have been able to greatly reduce inefficiencies and have made major improvements to patient transfer times, reduced readmissions, improved patient safety, and have improved the patient experience which has been reflected in higher patient satisfaction scores.