3 Tips for Improving Hospital Workflow Processes

One of the best ways to improve patient outcomes, patient satisfaction scores, and to reduce readmissions is to improve the efficiency of hospital workflow processes. When hospital workflows are streamlined, clinical and administrative staff will be able to achieve more in the same time, stress can be reduced, patient throughput can be accelerated, and there will be less potential for oversights and errors.

Fine tuning hospital workflow processes can be a challenge, but there are often many opportunities for improving workflows that are easy to implement that can make a big difference to patient outcomes and staff and patient satisfaction.

Automate Hospital Processes as Far as Possible

Automation is key to improving clinical workflows in healthcare. The more processes that can be automated, the more efficient workflows will be. Technology should be used at every opportunity to streamline workflows and automate manual, labor intensive tasks. There are many areas where automation is possible in healthcare to improve hospital workflow processes, from admission to discharge.

Admission processes are one of the easiest areas to automate to save the time of administrative staff, but also reduce wait times for patients and improve the patient experience. Providing forms to patients online can save a considerable amount of time and reduce delays in admission. Self-service check-in desks should be considered along with automation of back-office processes that require admin staff to go from desk to desk.

Business process management software can be used to streamline hospital workflow processes in ER rooms, where there are commonly inefficiencies. Software solutions can be used to improve efficiency and automate approvals, billing, insurance checks, patient flow, staffing, and IT support, all of which can result in major time savings, a considerable elimination of waste, and major improvements in resource utilization.

Investing in technology to automate hospital processes can pay dividends but is important to choose technology carefully and to concentrate on solutions that will have the biggest impact on hospital workflow processes. Before choosing any technology or software solution it is essential to carefully assess the potential benefits and how the solution will perform in practice. Be sure to consider whether changes will negatively impact other workflows and ask vendors to conduct a clinical workflow assessment.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (ARQH) has produced a useful workflow assessment for health IT toolkit that can be used to implement new solutions without harming existing hospital workflows.

Collaboration and Communication are Key to Improving Workflow in Healthcare

Improving workflow in healthcare is about eliminating inefficiencies and one of the main areas where considerable time is lost is the continued reliance on outdated communication systems. Many hospitals are still heavily reliant on pagers, faxes, landlines, and email for communication. One study conducted by the Ponemon Institute suggests medical professional waste an average of 45 minutes each day on pagers and outdated communications systems. Phone tag is common, chasing up pages wastes a considerable amount of time, and communication inefficiency is a major cause of frustration.

If you are still using pagers and faxes, consider implementing a text message-based solution that can be used on smartphones. These platforms typically support text messaging, voice, and video calls through the same app, and have a host of functions to improve efficiency. They often integrate seamlessly with EHRs and can also be used for providing telehealth services. Now that the CMS is considering permanent changes to telehealth rules, now is the ideal time to implement one of these platforms. Hospitals that have switched from pagers to these text-based platforms have reported significant improvements to hospital workflow processes, shorter wait times for patients, accelerated transfer times, and improvements to patient safety, patient outcomes, and reduced readmissions.

Sometimes a Complete Redesign of Hospital Workflow Processes is Necessary

While it is possible to make tweaks to existing workflows to improve efficiency and eliminate redundant processes, sometimes it is best to simply start again from scratch. This may seem like a major undertaking and it is, but the rewards can be considerable. By starting from scratch and mapping out processes using flow diagrams you may find there are much more efficient ways of working.

A redesign is often the best solution when you analyze workflows and discover many areas where tasks overlap and there is significant duplication. When you redesign hospital workflow processes it is important to involve all stakeholders to ensure that there are no omissions and to get buy in. Feedback should be sought on any potential problem areas at the design stage, and you should ensure that you test the new workflow thoroughly and monitor it very closely in the first few weeks after implementing the changes to identify and iron out any problems.