Optimizing Patient Workflow in Hospitals with Technology

Patient workflow is the term given to the sequence of admin, mental, and physical tasks that take place during a patient’s journey through a hospital or clinic. Optimizing patient workflow improves efficiency, eliminates waste, and accelerates patient flow. The result of these improvements in efficiency are clear. Patients spend less time in hospital and experience fewer delays, which improves the patient experience and translates into higher patient satisfaction scores.

Patient safety can also be improved by improvements to patient flow. There will be fewer delays receiving essential care, diagnoses can be accelerated which means treatment will be provided faster, hospitals will achieve better bed utilization, and patient outcomes can be improved.

When all processes are efficient, patient flow is greatly improved. Patient flow is the speed at which patients move through the facility, from admission to discharge. The patient’s route through the hospital may involve visits to many different departments, depending on the health of the patient, their symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment. Here we explore optimizing patient workflow by improving efficiency, eliminating sources of errors, and miscommunications that can result in delays to patient throughput – Where patients are left waiting due to organizational inefficiencies.

Organizational inefficiencies can result in delays providing essential care to patients, which can negatively affect patient outcomes or simply cause delays at certain stages of a patient’s journey, which can lead to queues forming at admission and discharge or at other choke points.

Optimizing patient workflow is concerned with eliminating bottlenecks and improving efficiency through the entire care continuum. When patient workflows are streamlined, hospitals can eliminate waste, achieve better resource utilization, and clinicians will be able to spend more face-to-face with patients. Patients will experience fewer delays and the patient experience will improve.

There are several strategies that can be adopted when optimization patient workflow, two of which are outlined below.

Optimizing Patient Workflow Using Patient Flow Software

Patient flow software can be extremely useful for identifying constraints that are hampering patient flow. These constraints or pinch points occur when there are too many patients for the resources available, and they are inevitable in healthcare where the journey a patient takes cannot easily be predicted. Patient flow software helps by identifying bottleneck areas and where patient flow is slowed. The software analyzes historical data and identifies trends, which helps hospitals better allocate resources, match staffing levels to patient volume, and reduce waste.

Bottlenecks are typically caused by staffing issues, but often inefficient workflows are to blame. There could be several areas in a hospital where delays are experienced, and by addressing these areas and fine-tuning clinical workflows, patient flow can be greatly improved. It may not be easy to ease some bottlenecks, in the radiology department for instance, but it is usually straightforward to prevent delays in admission and discharge by fine-tuning patient workflows and increasing automation.

With some fine tuning of clinical workflows, delegation of certain tasks to other staff at pinch points, and automation of processes using technology such as self-service patient check in software, it may be possible to ease bottlenecks and improve patient flow without having to increase staffing levels.

Optimize Patient Workflow by Improving Communication Efficiency

One of the biggest drains of productivity in healthcare is outdated communication technology. It has been estimated that as much as 45 minutes of a physician’s day is wasted due to the use of pagers and inefficiency communication systems. When information flow is slow, patients experience delays and patient throughput is negatively affected.

Improving communication in hospitals is arguably one of the most important steps to take when optimizing patient workflow. All too often information is available, but it is not available to the right person at the right time which leads to delays that affect patient safety and increase the time patients unnecessarily spend in hospital.

Clinical communication and collaboration (CC&C) platforms offer a solution and have been shown to improve patient transfer times, accelerate patient flow, and help hospitals achieve better bed utilization and improve profits. They are one of the most important considerations when optimizing patient workflow.

CC&C platforms serve as a replacement for pagers and ensure messages are sent to the right person at the right time via a smartphone app. Text messages can be sent instead of pages which include context to the communication, allowing physicians to prioritize call backs or even just fire off a quick text message answer. The platforms are HIPAA compliant, so can be used for communicating medical information. They also link to EHRs and eliminate admin work and repetition of tasks. Patient handoffs are streamlined, with message threads about a patient ensuring a permanent record of communications is created, which helps to eliminate errors.

The communication system can be used by all members of care staff. First responders can use the platforms to warn ER staff about incoming patients to allow them to prepare. By improving communication efficiency in ER, treat and release patients can be dealt with more effectively, reducing delays. From admission to discharge, efficiency can be improved to speed patient flow through effective coordination of care, something that simply isn’t possible with pagers, faxes, emails, and landlines.