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Alleviating Bottlenecks

Patient flow problems can have a detrimental effect on a hospital's bottom line, staffing and patient satisfaction scores. Despite many theories on how to improve patient flow, however, finding actual solutions to alleviate these bottlenecks continues to confound many hospital executives.

Marybeth Regan
Global Managing Partner
Reden & Anders
Eden Prairie, MN

The steady movement of patients throughout required hospital activities can enhance the bottom line, increase staff, physician and patient satisfaction, and provide patients and their families with quality medical care. Yet many hospitals underestimate the importance of patient bottlenecks. Some steps to help alleviate patient flow problems include a strong team atmosphere rather than the typical "departmental" mind-set; transparency of information, so staff members can see the current bed status and monitor the situation; clear and consistent communication; establishing ownership and accountability; using technology; defining back-up systems; and establishing methods to resolve "road blocks" quickly. Hospitals can also take lessons from other industries and adapt them to their business. Operational excellence is the key to a sustainable profitable hospital.

Eugene Litvak, PhD
Professor of Health Care and Operations Management
Boston University Health Policy Institute

The main reason many hospitals have patient bottleneck problems is because most administrators do not look at the problem analytically. The healthcare system is often managed by intuition and feeling. Most industries around the world use operations management to determine best practices, but these principles largely have not been applied in healthcare. For example, when you have a peak in your elective admissions, all of a sudden you have a competition for these resources among different departments. Yet many hospitals do not measure the effect operations in different departments have on each other. Every change made in one hospital department will have a ripple effect throughout the rest of the hospital. Until you do a hospital-wide system analysis and connect all the dots, you are not going to solve your problems.

-Ben Cole

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