From Intake to Check-out: How to Streamline Patient Throughput

From Intake to Check-out: How to Streamline Patient Throughput

Patient throughput (patient intake to checkout process) can pose a real challenge. Many healthcare providers find that inefficient flow slows them down and creates a frustrating experience for patients.

Making changes to a well-established process might seem daunting and not worth the effort, but the benefits of improved patient flow are invaluable. Done correctly, you may see shorter wait times, better return on assets, patient retention, and increased revenue, to name a few.

Below are few of the most impactful changes you can make to streamline your patient flow. Read on for inspiration.

Go All-In:

From patient intake to check-out, patient throughput involves nearly all staff, from administrators to nurses, physicians, and more. In such an interconnected system, everyone needs to be on board in order to reach an objective.

According to one article in Becker’s Hospital Review, “Overcrowding in the ED is not the responsibility of the ED alone — it is the responsibility of the entire organization.” For instance, the ED should prepare the receiving department, allowing for a swift transfer. The article continues, “Every staff member is responsible for efficient patient throughput and should be held accountable.”

This includes the leadership team. Change starts at the top, so  executives must emphasize 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.”

Improve Communication:

Because patient throughput is 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. The results can be found in their white paper on patient throughput. Patient management and 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.

Whether it was gathered during patient intake process or subsequent rounds, accessing patient information should be easy and secure. Platforms like Q-Rounding helps clinical care team members see patient feedback in real-time. In turn, they can prioritize their time. The earlier you address an issue, the quicker and easier it usually is to resolve it.

Leverage Data:

As the saying goes, “you can’t fix what you don’t measure.” Start with patient measuring throughput. This will give you a baseline to compare against once you start implementing changes. Measuring can also help you to identify where the bottlenecks are occurring in the process. For instance, if you notice bed preparation and patient intake are moving too slowly, you can zero in on them and improve. To start, create ambitious but realistic goals based on the data. That could be as simple as 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. That could mean:

  • Identifying  patterns and planning for urgent and emergent admissions.
  • Modifying elective procedure schedules to match staff and bed availability.

These tasks 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.

Mercy Health implemented having the frontline team all ask diagnostic questions together shortly after patient intake. That way, patients wouldn’t have to answer the same questions over and over. The results were impressive. Patient waiting times dropped from 40 minutes to 12 minutes. The number of patients who could be admitted to the hospital increased from 833 to 864. Even more remarkable, the average length of stay decreased from 394 minutes to 292 minutes.

The white paper pointed out how some health systems have found success by adding or changing an existing nurse’s schedule to an unassigned day shift role. Without a specific patient care assignment, the nurse can “facilitate patient throughput activity as process improvements lead to greater intake and discharge activity during peak clinical care hours.”

Others have created a centralized bed management department. This department reports directly to a C-level executive, often the COO or CMO, and takes over bed assignments from individual departments. This his how they ensure organizational values and accountability are maintained.

The Bottom Line

Patient throughput is undoubtedly complex, and there’s no simple fix to make it more efficient. If you commit to prioritizing it, come up with a plan of action, and follow through, it can be done. Chances are, you’ll be glad that 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


Edward Shin, MD

CEO and Co-Founder

Previously co-founded WellApps and Healogica. Built and led a healthcare team at Gerson Lehrman Group. Director of Content Development at Healthology. Ed received his BA and MD from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Completed his residency in Internal Medicine at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York and is board-certified in Internal Medicine.

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