How Busy Hospitals Can Increase Patient Flow: 6 Tips
Today's hospital leaders are under a lot of pressure. With the coronavirus pandemic, hospitals had to prepare to manage patient loads beyond their capacities, particularly in intensive care units.
As stay-at-home orders are lifting around the country, hospitals must also find safe ways to integrate non-emergency care and elective procedures into their facilities again. By accepting elective procedures back into daily operations, hospitals can begin to recover some of the financial losses resulting from the pandemic. According to the American Hospital Association, the pandemic has led to over $200 billion in losses for hospitals and health systems over four months.
While it might seem difficult to increase patient flow during these uncertain times, hospital leaders can deploy IoT technologies to improve efficiency in every department and prepare for challenges.
What Is Patient Throughput?
Patient throughput describes the movement of patients from arrival to discharge. It involves the care, resources and decision-making used to move patients through a hospital or health care facility. An optimized patient throughput process often improves the quality of care patients receive as well as their level of satisfaction with their experience.
Why Is Patient Flow Important?
Patient flow is critical to patients' safety, health and satisfaction. When patient throughput is effective and efficient, hospitals avoid overcrowded departments, care delivery delays and poor handoffs, all of which ultimately affect a patient's health, well-being and satisfaction.
With an efficient patient workflow, health care staff members experience less stress and improved job satisfaction subsequently leading to better job performance. Hospitals in turn save money because they no longer face the need to expand the facility, add staff or deal with costly delays in care to accommodate more patients.
For example, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center improved patient throughput by streamlining the discharge process and changing surgical scheduling strategies. As a result, the hospital saw a 7% boost in surgical volume — without the need to increase resources. With this new improved patient flow, doctors and nurses were able to dedicate their attention to seeing more patients. The hospital also saved millions by not having to expand the building capacity, even though they were able to treat more patients.
By understanding and controlling patient throughput better, hospitals and their patients can expect the following benefits:
- Reduced wait times
- Improved patient care
- Decreased costs to the health care facility
- Improved staff satisfaction
- Increased productivity
In addition to improving existing workflow, preparing to open a new facility is a great opportunity to think through strategies and technologies that would address workflow challenges. Learn more about the solutions implemented by Oregon Medical Group which enabled patients to spend more time with their care team while also experiencing a decrease in appointment wait times.
6 Tips to Optimize Patient Throughput
Every hospital can benefit from patient flow best practices, and even small improvements can make a meaningful impact. Here are tips for improving patient flow and creating a healthier, happier and safer facility all around.
1. Increase Communication and Goals Across All Hospital Departments
Patient throughput must be addressed on a whole-hospital level. Every part of the hospital is connected, and the cause of a patient flow issue or bottleneck may occur several steps before its noticeable effect. For instance, a patient flow problem in the inpatient units may be the result of issues with discharge procedures. Therefore, all hospital staff members, including nurses, physicians and administrators, must understand the objective to improve patient flow and the processes required to accomplish related goals.
The first step to improving patient flow is to create a team. The patient flow team should include a representative from every department in the hospital. The team will then work to identify issues, set goals and oversee changes.
To get started, the team might draw a patient throughput diagram to map the current design and measure performance. Team members should ask questions such as:
- Are there any bottlenecks with the current patient flow process?
- Are all the steps in the current flow necessary?
- How often do staff members complete each step?
- Can some of the steps be completed simultaneously?
- Is there a better way to sequence the steps?
- Can someone with fewer skills perform a certain step?
- What technology can be used to make steps easier?
After team members reflect on the current state of patient workflow and identify problem areas, they need to set goals. For example, the team might create a goal to improve communication between staff members. To meet this goal, the hospital might adopt technology like a real-time location system (RTLS). An RTLS consists of tags and badges which can be attached to staff members, patients or medical equipment. RTLS functions similar to a GPS but can integrate with other health care technologies such as EMF and EHR systems. It provides real-time data and allows staff to automate clinical processes for a more efficient and hands-free approach to patient care.
2. Tighten up Non-Clinical Services That Support Patient Care
Non-clinical staff members, or those who do not provide any clinical treatment or testing services, significantly impact patient flow. These include staff members who fulfill roles in transportation, housekeeping, billing and other administrative tasks. Management should evaluate non-clinical activities and find ways to improve their speed and efficiency. Here are efficiency-boosting tips for non-clinical services:
- Invest in training: All hospital staff members require ongoing training to perform at their best. Staff training and education are worth the investment because they increase employees' confidence, keep them engaged and enhance motivation. Training also improves their skills and increases patient satisfaction as a result. All of this helps staff members work more efficiently.
- Embrace technology: Use technology to automate as many processes as possible and reduce the need for manual work. For example, health care facilities might automate check-in and check-out procedures to eliminate bottlenecks. Another example is the use of RTLS with medical equipment. With RTLS, any biomed staff member can locate equipment quickly to improve rounding workflows for preventative maintenance procedures and ensure critical equipment is always available when needed.
- Hire the right staff: When hospitals decide to bring in new employees, they want to select individuals who fit their values and care about patient satisfaction — not just the salary. It's worth it to wait for the right candidate rather than focus on filling a position. Suitable staff members want to be efficient and successful in their roles, all while providing excellent service.
3. Track and Streamline Cycle-Time Measurements
Cycle time measures how long it takes for any process or combination of processes in the hospital to occur. For example, the amount of time it takes a patient to be registered, to receive treatment and be discharged from the hospital. In the United States, patients wait over an hour and a half to be taken to a room in the emergency department (ED) on average, and over two hours before they get discharged.
As efficiency increases, cycle time decreases and patient throughput can be increased to meet demand, thus reducing the need for additional resources. In contrast, poor departmental processes can lead to long cycle times which can impact patient outcomes and patient satisfaction.
As a first step to reducing the cycle time in the Emergency Department, leaders should follow the flow of a patient's journey through the ED. Use streamlined tracking tools such as RTLS to gather real-time data on patient throughput automatically. With RTLS, hospitals can follow patients from check-in to check-out and identify bottlenecks and inefficiencies along the way. They can see exactly how long a patient spends waiting in each area. For example, a hospital manager using location data as a reference might notice a long wait time in the radiology department. They can use this RTLS data to take steps to remedy the problem. Here are more tips to reduce the cycle time:
- Staff to meet the demand: If patients have the choice, they are likely to visit the ED in the evening or on weekends when they don't have to miss work. However, physicians and nurses may prefer working during weekdays. To reduce cycle time, monitor the volume of patients in the hospital regularly and ensure that the ED is staffed according to the demand.
- Ensure supplies and equipment are easy to find: Staff should not have to waste time running around looking for medical equipment or supplies. Any inefficiency in the cycle can lead to a bottleneck. Hospitals can use asset tracking to increase visibility to show staff the exact location and condition of critical resources.
- Improve the registration process: Patient registration is a necessary step that should not create delays in care. Consider the number of steps in the registration process as patients check-in and think about how long each step usually takes. Hospitals can reduce check-in time by asking the minimum amount of questions needed to identify the patient and collecting more information at the bedside. Other solutions include self-check-in/registration. Upon arrival, patients are given a device or use their own to complete a patient intake application, Information can be pushed directly to the EHR and other technology integrations such as RTLS for seamless flow of information.
4. Improve the Hospital Layout
One way an emergency department can increase patient throughput is to consider the layout. The layout should make it as easy as possible for staff and patients to navigate the facility and complete tasks. Here are tips to improve the layout and promote flow:
- Display easy-to-read signage: It can be easy to get lost in a large hospital without proper signage. Be sure the hospital clearly leads staff and patients through the parking lots, lobby and various departments. Consider digital wayfinding solutions so patients can navigate the hospital turn-by-turn through a mobile app. When hospitals keep patients from getting lost, the number of late or missed appointments are greatly reduces.
- Flow in sequence: Many times, patients check-in, take a seat in the waiting room, and then have to cross paths with other patients to go to an exam room. Make sure the layout supports the flow of events as they happen, so patients do not have to cross paths with others or retrace their steps. Be sure to use separate check-in and check-out areas as well. Consider solutions such as self-rooming procedures and immediate notifications to staff on who is waiting, where and for how long. This eliminates the need for clinical staff to bouncing between floors and areas of the department or facility to retrieve patients from a central waiting room.
- Provide stand-up workstations: Place stand-up workstations in a central area to give doctors and nurses quick and easy access to the electronic health record (EHR) system. Medical staff should not have to travel far to take notes or review records before moving onto the next patient.
- Place supplies in patients' rooms: Keep essential supplies in easy-to-reach storage drawers in patients' rooms, so staff have access to resources when needed. Hospitals might also keep supplies in a central area or well-stocked mobile carts. Managers must consider storage solutions that would provide the most convenient access, depending on their unique needs. It helps to ask staff members for their opinions.
- Offer more outlets: Staff members may use mobile devices to access the EHR and patient information, and they shouldn't have to search for outlets or USB charging stations to keep their batteries full. Ensure there are enough outlets available in the layout or furniture, so staff does not have to waste time when their batteries get low.
- Divide rooms into three areas: The entrance of patients' rooms should provide open space for staff to perform their tasks. The beds should be kept in the center of the room and visitor seating areas in the back. This layout helps staff members enter and exit rooms freely as they provide patient care.
5. Train Hospital Staff on Time Management
Be sure every staff member in the hospital is taught time management techniques. Time management is the process of planning how one uses their time to increase efficiency and productivity. Everyone, from receptionists to physicians, can benefit from improving their time management skills.
For example, hospital leaders might emphasize the importance of using technology to save time. Hospitals might introduce new technology, such as RTLS, to help staff members manage their time better. It's crucial to train staff on how to use new technologies and give them the time and support they need to use these tools effectively. Here's how hospitals can help staff embrace changes that improve time management:
- Let the staff know ahead of time so they can prepare for the new technology and the change in their routine.
- Talk to the team about the benefits of technology and how it will ultimately make their jobs easier and improve patient care.
- Ensure staff understands that tools like RTLS are not meant to monitor them for disciplinary purposes but are there to improve patient flow.
- Hold regular meetings to discuss the purpose of new communications or monitoring systems, and address any issues or concerns staff members might have.
6. Utilize Data Analytics to Make Efficient Decisions
Thanks to technology, health care professionals can use a range of devices and software to collect and analyze data, such as EHR, online patient portals and location devices. These tools provide helpful insights so managers can make decisions that improve patient care, support staff and increase overall efficiency. Managers can also use data to show staff members how their work impacts the hospital as a whole. As more tasks become automated in health care settings, it's becoming easier to track patient workflow and identify any potential bottlenecks.
Contact CenTrak Today
As hospitals across the country face new challenges related to COVID-19, it's becoming increasingly important to find solutions to inefficiencies. Patients should feel cared for, safe and appreciated when they visit a hospital, and staff should feel confident they have the resources, skills and time to provide the best care possible. Technology like RTLS helps reduce stress and simplify tasks for staff so they can focus on what matters most: patient care.
Hospital managers considering RTLS should reach out to CenTrak. CenTrak offers robust and easy-to-implement RTLS technology to improve patient throughput and employee satisfaction. With CenTrak, hospitals and health care facilities can reduce costs and increase efficiency as patient volumes continue to grow. To learn more, request a demo or contact us today.