The increasing demand for health care puts pressure on hospital administrators to move every admitted patient to outpatient status as quickly as possible. The health system also needs to provide quality patient care while maintaining HIPAA compliance.

Managing patient flow ensures the safety of all patients within a facility. A hospital that achieves optimal patient throughput is also more likely to see increased patient retention, staff productivity, and profitability.

This article takes an in-depth look at patient flow and its effect on a patient’s experience. The sections below also discuss methods your throughput patient flow team can implement to ensure the best possible patient outcome.

What Is Patient Flow?

Patient flow, or throughput, describes a patient’s movements in a healthcare facility – from admission to discharge. Patient throughput is a multi-dimensional concept and involves patient care, healthcare improvement, and the facility’s physical resources, human resources, and internal patient transfer systems.

Optimizing patient throughput involves moving patients as quickly and efficiently as possible through the care process while meeting medical care requirements. Good patient flow requires care coordination and the implementation of all relevant safety measures. Allocating the right resources to each admission is also critical.

While patient flow optimization should be a facility-wide endeavor, each inpatient unit can take steps to improve its patient volume.

How Do You Improve Patient Experience by Adjusting Patient Flow?

Optimizing patient flow is crucial to ensuring your patients’ safety and the quality of care. A hospital implementing adequate patient flow prevents ED overcrowding, patient care delays, and inadequate patient handoffs between nurses or other care providers. Preventing care bottlenecks improves patient satisfaction and mitigates the risk of bacterial or viral transmissions in overcrowded waiting rooms and other areas.

According to healthcare research, a facility’s readmission rate increases by 9% for every additional patient that falls under one nurse’s care. Streamlining the patient journey results in fewer mistakes and ensures a more productive environment. Implementing efficient patient flow also alleviates the stress that staff members, including ED staff, experience while providing care.

What Factors Affect Patient Flow?

The contributors to poor patient flow fall under various categories:

  • Complexity: Hospitals’ patient admission rules can be complex. Meeting these extensive requirements can significantly impact patient flow.
  • Limited resources: Optimal patient flow requires the availability of patient transport, sterile exam room equipment, inpatient beds, and human resources.
  • Poor communication and uncertainty: Uncertainties regarding patient arrivals, duration of treatment, and the resources necessary for treatment can cause patient flow issues. These uncertainties are often due to poor communication channels with patients or among staff.
  • Inefficient scheduling and lack of cooperation between departments: Suboptimal scheduling can result in bottlenecks, especially in post-operative units. Insufficient scheduling cooperation between units is a leading cause of this problem.

How Can Patient Flow Be Improved? Try these 5 tips

Establishing an efficient patient movement system within a facility requires much more than creating patient flow charts. A fully functional hospital needs to implement a flexible facility-wide communication system that allows seamless patient communication, scheduling, admissions, and payment collections. This system should support HIPAA-compliance and be accessible to every ED nurse, doctor, behavioral health professional, and social care provider working within your facility.

Hospital staff should also receive ongoing training to ensure an in-depth understanding of optimal patient flow. Continuous training also eliminates uncertainty, which contributes to patient throughput issues in healthcare functions such as emergency medicine, critical care, surgery, and short-term inpatient stabilization.

1. Team Communication

Efficient and clear communication between staff in a hospital is integral to a healthy patient flow and optimal clinical and operational capacity. Facility-wide clinical quality improvement results in:

  • The elimination of redundant phone calls or pages, minimizing interruptions
  • The maximum available time for direct clinical care
  • More effective and quicker health care service delivery

Weave Team is a centralized instant messaging platform for staff members within a unit or facility. This team chat built to support HIPAA compliant communications allows real-time communication between colleagues, eliminating missed calls and inbox clutter.

Hospital teams can effectively use Weave Team to make team-wide announcements, ask questions, and provide patient updates. Weave Team also allows for one-to-one communication between team members.

2. Easy and Efficient Scheduling

No-shows can significantly impact patient flow, especially in a clinic or facility providing Medicaid services.

Weave Scheduling is a software that sends patients automatic reminders of their appointments. Thanks to Weave’s two-way text function, patients can conveniently respond to these reminders, and the Smart Confirmation technology interprets their messages into a “yes” or “no” answer.

Weave Scheduling also features Quick Fill. This feature sends a personalized message to patients whenever a schedule gap or cancellation occurs. Administrators can also use this tool to send messages to patients who are due for a routine examination.

3. Digital Forms to Save Time

Manually completing forms as part of the hospital admissions process can be time-intensive, especially in an emergency department. In many cases, ED crowding is due to patients filling out forms in the waiting room.

Using Weave Digital Forms, a health care facility can record patients’ information before they arrive. This tool features a form template library and drag-and-drop functionality, allowing for complete document customization. All the form fields are fully customizable, and administrators can choose from all form types.

A facility can upload its existing paper forms and Weave will digitize them, so there is no need to recreate existing forms with this tool.

4. Make Payment Collection Mobile

Providing patients with multiple payment options means they don’t need to go out of their way to make payments. Convenient payment methods translate into lower accounts receivable, which increases cash flow while reducing the cost of medical billing and collections after patient discharge.

Weave Payments is a payment processing solution that lets patients pay any way they want. The payment methods available with this software include:

  • Point-of-care payments (in-office payments)
  • Manual card entry
  • Mobile card payments
  • Text To Pay

Weave Payments supports HIPAA compliance with no processing limits. A medical facility can quickly sign up for this service, which requires no credit checks or contracts.

5. Embrace Texting with Patients

Streamlining patient communication can significantly enhance throughput. However, missed calls, unopened voicemails, and emails to cluttered inboxes can make timely communication with patients challenging.

Weave Messages is a two-way texting platform between your office and patients that integrates with your scheduling platform. This texting service is available 24/7. If your office misses a call from a patient, the app will send an automated message to the patient from your office number, asking them how your office can help.

Hospitals and other healthcare providers can use this feature to send appointment reminders, follow-up invitations, and updates about office hours. Administrators can customize all automatic messages to patients, and the tool makes it convenient for patients to respond.

Improving Patient Flow in the Emergency Department

A hospital’s emergency department typically has a limited capacity for onboarding and treating patients, and it is here where most facilities’ patient flow issues originate.

Various factors can affect ED patient flow. For example, in 2013, in the emergency department of White Plains Hospital in New York, ED patients encountered long wait times. The increasing wait periods were due to an influx of patients, including non-critical patients who used the emergency department as a primary care facility.

The ED’s poor patient flow resulted in discharge delays, patients leaving without receiving treatment, and ambulance diversions to other emergency departments. Ultimately, the throughput problems in the ED seeped through to the surgical care centers and other units.

Reducing Emergency Department Crowding

Intervention to address poor patient flow in an emergency department typically focuses on reducing crowding. In the case of White Plains Hospital’s ED, the solutions for reducing crowding included:

  • Fast-tracking treatment for low-acuity patients
  • Establishing quicker lab result turnaround times
  • Forming independent patient care teams consisting of doctors, nurses, and technicians
  • Aligning the ED staff’s scheduling with the patients’ actual arrival rates
  • Improving radiologists’ scheduling and communication, ensuring they were available for real-time imaging
  • Increasing the facility’s bed capacity for inpatients
  • Speeding up patient transfer from the ED to nursing units or surgical centers

This example demonstrates the importance of implementing a practical and real-time communication and scheduling solution.

Improving Patient Flow in Hospitals

Insufficient patient flow is among the most significant barriers to patient safety and the provision of quality healthcare services. By enhancing patient flow through effective communication, scheduling, and the streamlining of care processes, hospitals enhance patients’ experience, alleviate pressure on staff, and maximize revenues.

In Ohio, the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center improved its patient flow by implementing new surgical scheduling strategies. The hospital also streamlined its discharge process. The result was a 7% increase in surgical volume – without the need to increase available resources.

By paying careful attention to patient flow, this hospital also managed to meet its patient targets without needing to expand its building’s capacity, saving millions of dollars.

Improving Patient Flow in Outpatient Clinics

Outpatient or ambulatory clinics can also encounter patient flow issues, despite providing treatments that don’t require overnight stays and resources such as beds.

This situation occurred in Erie Shores Healthcare, a hospital in Ontario providing outpatient diagnostic imaging services. An increase in DI service requests and ED requests to the X-ray department resulted in poor patient flow, an increase in overtime, and frustration among staff, doctors, and patients.

According to a related article, the most significant factors in improving this facility’s patient flow included:

  • Personnel scheduling
  • Implementation of standardized electronic platforms
  • Capitalization of digital platforms

Improving Patient Flow at a Family Health Clinic

Maintaining an efficient schedule in a family health clinic is critical, regardless of the patient profile mix. Ideally, family physicians should focus on providing quality care to a large community of patients.

However, seeing a patient every 20 minutes can result in overload and, in turn, affect the quality of care. In this case, scheduling reforms might be necessary, even if it means extending the average time patients spend within the facility.

A family clinic operated by the health department for Bexar County, Texas, experienced an 8.5% reduction in patients’ stay by making careful adjustments to appointment scheduling. This patient flow improvement was possible without making any other changes.

Urgent Care: Improving Patient Flow

Urgent care facilities that treat patients who have non-life-threatening injuries or illnesses are rapidly becoming an affordable and convenient alternative to emergency departments. The result is an increase in the demand for urgent care, and these clinics are increasingly facing patient flow issues.

Urgent care clinics don’t use a scheduling system – these facilities treat patients in the order in which they arrive at the front desk.

A study by the University of St. Augustine found that the less time patients spent within the urgent care facility, the higher their satisfaction scores.

The clinic’s patient flow improvements included seeing patients according to their emergency severity index (ESI) acuity score.

Conclusion

Optimizing patient throughput is critical to ensuring patient satisfaction and quality of care in all types of healthcare facilities. Complexities, uncertainties, and limited resources (including human resources) all contribute to poor patient flow.

Weave offers a wide range of medical software solutions to enhance patient flow, including Team Chat, E-forms, contactless payment options, and two-way text to improve patient communication. Contact Weave at 866-308-2039 to learn more or request a demo.