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5 Strategies to Improve Patient Flow and Drive Competitive Advantage

Thom Mayer, M.D., FACEP, FAAP, FACHE, November 29, 2017

Through years of expert clinical care, physicians have identified and implemented five strategies to help improve patient flow and care quality.

With increased pressure on hospitals to streamline operations to become the high-quality, low-cost provider, now is the time to focus on improving patient flow. Optimizing flow is like solving a puzzle – hospitals have to combine different strategies and processes and engage all team members in finding the best fit. The result is an efficient operation that’s conducive to improved clinical outcomes, positive patient experiences, physician satisfaction, improved safety, reduced care costs and more.

At Envision Physician Services, one of the nation’s leading healthcare organizations, our clinicians specialize in emergency medicine, hospital medicine, anesthesia, radiology, surgery and women’s and children’s services. We provide an integrated suite of services to hospitals, health systems and payors that aims to improve care delivery and enhance the patient experience. We know that poor communication, a lack of alignment and slow throughput can hinder patient flow and overall performance.

Below are five proven strategies our clinical teams have implemented to improve patient throughput and help streamline patient flow:

  • Integrate All Departments – A facility is only as strong as its weakest link. While most perceive patient flow as an issue that primarily affects the emergency department, it is truly a hospitalwide concern. When one department is not operating optimally, the rest of the facility is impacted. Often, bottlenecks begin in other departments, like the intensive care unit, and trickle down to the emergency department. As all departments become aligned on the same goals, each department can focus on providing the best possible care to the patient instead of trying to overcome operational bottlenecks.

  • Create a Culture of Accountability – Everyone must take responsibility for the facility’s successes and mishaps and commit to making a positive change. Hospital leaders should clearly communicate expectations and hold everyone to a high standard. In addition to encouraging providers and staff members to participate in the strategic process, we ask them to be a part of the solution. For example, a physician and an advanced practice provider (APP) in our East Region developed a program that enables APPs to practice at the top of their license and become expert emergency caregivers. The program has alleviated some of the pressure on physicians and contributed to a more positive and collaborative care environment. Learn how strong leadership improved patient experience and volume surge at a Los Alamitos emergency department.

  • Explore Different Staffing Models – Several factors including a facility’s geographic location and budget can make it difficult to determine how best to staff a facility. Attracting physicians tends to be a greater challenge in rural settings. However, when APPs are adept at performing many of the same procedures as physicians, such as intubations and central lines, they can support physicians and help ensure patients receive timely care. Similarly, the use of scribes significantly improves the amount of contact time physicians have with patients. With less time spent on record keeping and administrative tasks, physicians can reduce wait times and focus on patients, driving both efficiency and patient experience scores.

  • Recognize the Importance of Hospital Medicine – Flow optimization is about handoffs and processes. In an integrated system, the hospitalists are the team’s quarterbacks. They communicate care needs, facilitate smooth transitions and make sure patients are connected with the right provider, at the right time and with the right resources. Experience has proven that when hospital medicine and emergency medicine physicians align their processes and goals, hospitals operate much more efficiently.

  • Use Technology to Enhance Care – We are constantly developing and identifying platforms that enhance the delivery of care. One such platform is our Rapid Admission Process & Gap Orders™. One of our hospital medicine leaders developed the software to improve communication between emergency physicians and hospitalists. The software helps reduce emergency department boarding times, expedite inpatient admissions, decrease length of stay and, ultimately, lower the cost of care. Telemedicine is another great resource, especially for small and rural hospitals. Instead of waiting for a specialist to arrive at the hospital, physicians can receive real-time assistance from a specialist and prevent care delays. Learn more about how one Nashville hospital implemented Door to Door Discharge and Rapid Admission Process to reduce boarding times and increase patient volumes.

In the end, optimizing flow is about improving all quality dimensions of care delivery. When the system is integrated, departments communicate effectively, team members are engaged and goals are aligned, it creates more visibility and collaboration within the hospital. As operations run more efficiently, patients and providers will have a more positive care experience, and the facility will see improvements in revenue. Contact us today to learn more.

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