HealthWare Systems Blog

Patient Flow: Challenges and Solutions for Optimal Throughput

Posted on Mon, Aug 04, 2014

As medical costs climb and reimbursements decline, healthcare facilities look to technology to improve their operating margins. In at least one category—patient flow—technology is proving itself up to the task. Not only can patient tracking tools provide clear data on one of today’s biggest  patient satisfaction issues (wait times), they can also support broader operational goals—like registration accuracy, predictive staffing, not to mention physician and staff satisfaction.

New Patient Tracking Technology Can Improve Patient Flow

Today’s patient flow solutions include real-time location systems  and event-driven data tools. Some platforms incorporate elements of both. RTLS technology involves physical tags that can be carried by patients, equipment, or other facility assets. Tracking technology provides real-time location data in relation to the hospital floor plan, eliminating the need for phone calls or status checks from other departments. Staff members and available beds can also be tracked with RTLS.

Event-driven tracking is based on manual entries made by registrars and clinical staff. As patients proceed from one area to the next, greeters or DIY kiosks record arrival times and other patient-specific data, while starting the clock on any pre-triggered alerts that a facility creates—in terms of maximum number of patients waiting, or maximum amount of time in queue. When alerts reach a given threshold, supervisors and support teams can be automatically notified via page, text, or email.

Use Patient Flow Tools in Tandem with Productivity Monitoring, Not in Place Of

Even the most effective patient flow tools can’t replace your human capital—including a dedicated support staff and supervisory team. Healthcare administrators can use today’s tools to track and measure performance benchmarks, by individual registrar, clinician, or by a specific service area. A supervisor sees exactly what is happening at each booth, gets a snapshot of the performance of each registrar and can receive a summary by department.

Patient Flow Is Bigger than Admissions

Some facilities tend to think of patient flow as a waiting room/patient registration issue, but throughput presents a challenge (and an opportunity) at every stage of the patient experience—from admission to discharge. In fact, according to CDC data, reducing your average patient stay by four hours is equivalent to adding ten beds of capacity. So there’s significant room for improvement, even after patients progress to the appropriate clinical department. In this sense, patient encounter management is an important corollary to patient flow.

Benefits of Patient Flow Tools

Improved Press Ganey scores and overall patient experiences are two major benefits that patient tracking tools can provide. Operational efficiencies and cost-savings are another obvious advantage. But don’t forget about recruiting and retaining a world-class healthcare team.

Talented healthcare workers are drawn to employers who value accountability and monitor/reward performance goals. Meanwhile, physicians and nurses appreciate having more time to deliver care and fewer hassles associated with wrangling patients/paperwork. Patient tracking also facilitates safety efforts and resource allocation.

Ready to learn more about patient flow tools and tracking technology? Our recent case study highlights one hospital’s remarkable success with a patient tracking solution. You might also wish to read  our patient experience eBook, which illustrates the link between efficient patient throughput and health systems revenue. Check it out: