Improving Efficiency with Healthcare Workflow Automation

Healthcare workflow automation is the use of technology to improve efficiency by automating repetitive and time-consuming tasks. Through automation, administrative processes are streamlined, and clinicians’ time is freed which allows them to see more patients.

Without workflow automation in healthcare, staff waste a considerable amount of their working day completing tasks that are important for the successful operation of a hospital, yet take them away from providing care to patients, which is ultimately how hospitals make money.

Improving Profits Through Healthcare Workflow Automation

The cost of healthcare in the United States is much higher than in comparable western countries, and while there are many factors contributing to the high cost of healthcare, one that is easily addressed is inefficiency. Inefficiencies in hospital workflows mean resources are underutilized and there is considerable wastage.

Senior managers in healthcare are often tasked with making improvements to ensure better utilization of clinicians’ time, and this is often achieved by fine-tuning clinical workflows. Workflows are a series of tasks that need to be performed in series or parallel to achieve a particular goal, from initiation to completion. Hospital workflows are the tasks that must be performed by clinical and administrative staff to ensure the hospital functions, patients receive the care they need, and the hospital receives payment for providing medical services.

A typical 500-bed hospital will have in excess of 5000 employees and the journey each patient takes through the hospital from admission to discharge and follow-up could easily involve interactions with dozens of those staff members. Hospital workflows can therefore be extremely complex.

Streamlining hospital workflows to improve efficiency and patient outcomes and lower costs can therefore be a major challenge, and one that is difficult to achieve without healthcare workflow automation.

To improve profits the simplest solution is to treat more patients. If a physician were to treat one extra patient each day, the difference to revenue would be considerable over the course of a year. Workflow automation in healthcare helps hospitals treat many more patients each day by eliminating inefficiency, reducing manual tasks, improving resource utilization, and eliminating bottlenecks that hamper patient flow through a hospital.

Technologies for Workflow Automation in Healthcare

When new technology is introduced in healthcare it is often implemented in silos, and hospitals often fail to achieve the full benefits. Information is contained in legacy systems that require manual tasks to be performed to send data to other hospital systems. The lack of interoperability in healthcare has long been a problem, and most hospitals have so far failed to achieve full interoperability, but workflow automation tools are helping to correct this problem.

Machine learning technologies and AI are also showing great promise at speeding up diagnoses. AI tools have been developed that can diagnose conditions from medical images far faster than radiographers and are helping address this common bottleneck in hospitals and ensure patients receive treatment more quickly.

Workflow management software is also helping to boost productivity by creating seamless workflows and streamlining management and approvals. There are also many software solutions that can speed up hospital processes and reduce manual tasks, from automated check-in solutions, to staff rota software and compliance tracking software solutions.

Arguably one of the most important and most beneficial solutions used for healthcare workflow automation is concerned with improving communication efficiency and eliminating the considerable waste that results from the use of outmoded communication methods such as pagers, faxes, landlines, and email.

Solving the Communication Problem in Healthcare

Many hospitals are still heavily reliant on pagers, faxes and email for communication. 1 in 4 hospitals still uses pagers to contact physicians, even though this is a one-way method of communication that requires physicians to then use a landline to call back to find out why they have been paged. Information is often sent via email to desktop computers, and 90% of hospitals still use faxes as one of the main methods of communication. Mobile devices are carried by most clinicians, yet those devices are not being used for internal communication.

It has been estimated that a hospital physician wastes around 45 minutes each day on these outdated communication solutions, and that time is being taken away from providing care to patients. The cost of the wasted time has been estimated to be around $4 million each year for a typical 500-bed hospital.

Clinical communication and collaboration (CC&C) solutions offer a solution. They are HIPAA-compliant platforms, which means they can be used for communicating patient data. They are closed systems with excellent security to ensure the privacy of patient data, and they are installed on the mobile devices that all clinicians carry. The platforms support text messages, voice calls, and video calls, and can be used for sending medical images and other important medical data to clinicians at the patient’s bedside. Further, these platforms integrate with electronic medical records. There is no need to login to the EHR on a desktop computer to find out when a patient’s test results are in. An alert will be sent the second the test results are added to the patient’s medical record.

Hospitals that have adopted CC&C solutions as part of their efforts to improve healthcare workflow automation have accelerated patient transfers, reduced patient wait times, increased patient throughput, reduced medical errors, and have achieved higher patient satisfaction scores, reduced readmissions, and seen improvements in patient outcomes. The improvements in efficiency of communication has also helped to improve profits. If you are currently investigating healthcare workflow automation to improve efficiency and you are still using pagers and faxes, implementing a CC&C solution should be high on your list of priorities.