How to Improve Patient Workflow in a Hospital

Patient workflow in a hospital describes the path a patient takes from arriving at the hospital and being admitted, the movement through various departments where medical tests are performed and treatment is provided, to payment and discharge.

A patient’s journey in a hospital is likely to involve several different departments and the patient will be seen by many members of the hospital staff, so patient workflows can be complex. Procedures will have been developed to deal with the patient at all stages of their journey through a hospital, but oftentimes there are inefficiencies that hamper patient flow. When patient workflows run smoothly, there are minimal delays, wait times will be short, and hospitals can achieve close to optimal bed utilization. In practice however, that is often not the case. There will be several stages of the patient journey where delays are experienced due to bottlenecks. Those delays increase the time a patient spends in a hospital which has cost implications for the hospital: The longer the patient stay, the fewer patients that can be treated. The patient experience is also negatively affected, and patient satisfaction scores will be lower, which can also have cost implications for the hospital. Delays can also negatively affect patient outcomes.

Streamlining Patient Workflow in a Hospital

Streamlining patient workflow in a hospital can be a challenge, but it is essential for ensuring smooth operations and increasing profits. Electronic medical records have helped to improve efficiency and ensure that information relating to the patient can be quickly found, but there are many processes and procedures that are far from efficient which contribute to the underutilization of staff and unnecessary delays in care provision.

Improving patient workflow in a hospital involves analyzing the various stages of the patient journey and ensuring that the processes that occur in series or in parallel are efficient, and manual processes are automated as far as possible through the use of technology.

Developing an efficient patient workflow in a hospital requires the integration of clinical and administrative tasks in an efficient manner and the careful coordination of clinical and administrative resources. Each of the clinical and administrative tasks that need to be performed to achieve a particular goal must be defined. The sequence that those tasks must be completed needs to be determined, and then technology solutions need to be implemented to automate those processes as far as possible, such as the use of check-in solutions that automate patient registration and the collection of information.

Information about the patient must be sent to the right people at the right time to ensure timely treatment decisions can be made. The approval process needs to be streamlined and patient transfers need to be efficient, with signoffs obtained rapidly. Policies and procedures must also be developed to reduce the potential for human errors and oversights.

Communication Inefficiency Disrupts Patient Workflow

Technology plays a critical role in improving patient workflow in a hospital. Technology can be used to ensure the right information is available to the right people at the right time and information is delivered in an efficient manner, yet in communication in hospitals is often inefficient and prone to errors and omissions. Many hospitals are still reliant on pagers and landlines for communication, email is still extensively used, and most hospitals still send information by fax.

One study suggests a typical hospital physician wastes around 45 minutes each day as a result of inefficient communication systems. Oftentimes, information that is needed by clinicians before a patient can be moved on to the next stage of their journey is available, it is just not available to the right person.

Poor communication can also have much more serious consequences. A study by the Joint Commission found 80% of serious medical errors can be directly attributed to communication failures. Communication inefficiency and the reliance on multiple communication tools, many of which are now outmoded, severely disrupts patient workflow.

One of the best ways to improve patient workflow in a hospital is replacing these outdated communication tools with a modern communication platform; one that can be used by all members of the care team to communicate and collaborate more efficiently.

Patient Workflow in a Hospital Can Be Greatly Improved with a Modern Communication Solution

Clinical Communication and Collaboration (CC&C) solutions serve as a direct replacement for faxes, emails, pagers, and landlines. They are accessed through the mobile devices that clinicians carry with them, which means clinicians can communicate and collaborate no matter where they are located. Unlike pagers, the platforms support 2-way communication and support text, voice, and video calls. CC&C solutions are also HIPAA compliant, so they can be used for sending PHI, including medical images. They also integrate with EHRs, so alerts can be sent and received the moment test results or medical images are available.

A CC&C solution will improve communication efficiency, eliminate considerable wastage of resources, and help hospitals operate more efficiently, and can result in major improvements to patient workflow in a hospital without having to make major changes to clinical workflows.

Healthcare providers that have adopted these solutions report reductions in wait times, improved patient throughput, better bed utilization, faster patient transfers, and accelerated authorizations, signoffs, and discharges. By improving communication efficiency, the platforms have been shown to reduce medical errors and improve patient outcomes and satisfaction scores.