For many healthcare providers, patient throughput can pose a real challenge. Inefficient flow not only creates a frustrating experience for patients — it also prevents you from being able to help as many patients as you could. Making changes to a well-established process might seem so daunting that it’s not worth the effort, but the benefits of improved patient flow are invaluable. When done right, it can result in shorter wait times, better return on assets, better patient retention, and increased revenue, to name just a few.
Here are a few of the most impactful changes you can make to streamline your patient flow — read on to get some inspiration for your own organization.
From patient intake to check-out, patient throughput involves nearly all staff, from admins to techs, nurses, physicians, and more. In such an interconnected system, everyone needs to be on board in order to reach an objective.
“Overcrowding in the ED is not the responsibility of the ED alone — it is the responsibility of the entire organization. For example, the department that receives the patient after treatment in the ED should be prepared, allowing for a swift transfer,” reads one article in Becker’s Hospital Review. “Every staff member is responsible for efficient patient throughput and should be held accountable.”
This includes the leadership team as well. Change starts at the top, so it’s up to executives to make it clear to staff that streamlined patient flow is a major priority.
“C-suite executives should be involved in setting goals with regard to patient throughput and ensuring that they are met,” the Becker’s article continues. “Set high goals… and ensure that the goals are transparent and everyone in the organization understands them.”
Because patient throughput is such an interconnected system, it requires clear and efficient communication throughout the entire process. Make sure your staff members are all sharing the information the others need to know in a timely manner.
The Chartis Group, a leading healthcare management consulting firm, identified technology enablers as one of the keys to efficient communication in their white paper on patient throughput. Patient management systems and patient feedback platforms like Q-Reviews® are critical to any provider’s daily operations — these tools and platforms “enhance communication and provide information about all steps and points in the process,” the Chartis Group wrote, all without adding to your staff’s plate.
Whether it was gathered during patient intake or subsequent rounds, the clinical care team should be able to easily and securely access all of the information they need to help a patient. And being able to see patient feedback in real-time with a platform like Q-Rounding helps clinical care team members prioritize their time — because the earlier you address an issue, the quicker and easier it usually is to resolve it.
As the saying goes, “you can’t fix what you don’t measure.” Knowing how long patient throughput and all of the different steps in the process take will give you a baseline to compare against once you start implementing changes. It can also allow you to identify where the bottlenecks are occurring in the process. If you notice bed preparation and patient intake are moving too slowly, for example, you can zero in on those stages to find out why it’s happening and how you can improve. To hold yourself accountable, use the data you gathered to inform ambitious but realistic goals, like reducing wait time from 45 minutes to 30.
Some health systems have found success using data to identify and prepare for periods of peak demand before they even start. The Chartis Group noted that a great way to optimize patient flow is by using demand predictability and smoothing — “the identification of consistent patterns and subsequent planning for urgent and emergent admissions, and the modification of elective procedure schedules to match staff and bed availability.” This can be as simple as analyzing historical data and current trends or as complex as using machine learning.
Rethink Roles & Responsibilities:
While everybody who interacts with patients has an impact on throughput, they don’t always have the time to make it a top priority. In that case, you may want to think about adjusting employee responsibilities or redefining roles.
One change that Mercy Health’s Anderson Hospital made, as reported in the Cincinnati Business Courier, was to have doctors, nurses, and technicians all ask diagnostic questions together shortly after patient intake. That way, patients didn’t have to answer the same questions over and over again to different people. The results were impressive — patient waiting times went from 40 minutes to 12 minutes, the number of patients who could be admitted to the hospital increased from 833 to 864, and the average length of stay decreased from 394 minutes to 292 minutes.
In their white paper, the Chartis Group mentioned that some health systems have found success by adding (or changing an existing nurse’s schedule to an unassigned day shift role. When a unit-based nurse doesn’t have a specific patient care assignment, they can “facilitate patient throughput activity as process improvements lead to greater intake and discharge activity during peak clinical care hours,” the white paper reads. Others have created a centralized bed management department, which takes over bed assignments from individual departments and “reports directly to a C-level executive, often the COO or CMO, to ensure organizational values and accountability are maintained.”
Patient throughput is undoubtedly complex, and there’s no simple fix to make it more efficient. But if you commit to prioritizing it, come up with a plan of action, and follow through, it can be done. And odds are, you’ll be glad you did.
Quality Reviews®, Inc. was founded by leading healthcare providers and entrepreneurs with a combined 30-plus years of clinical, healthcare administrative, and technology-building experience. Reach out to learn more about our software and services that help healthcare organizations capture and analyze real-time patient feedback to facilitate service recovery