Patient experience is more important than ever in healthcare facilities of all types and sizes. Value-based care has ushered in a new era in which healthcare organizations must focus on improving patient experience if they hope to survive.
This issue is a complex and challenging nut to crack—but several key factors have significant sway on patient satisfaction. In addition to the quality of the care and rapport with clinic staff, long wait times continually top the list of grievances in patient surveys and industry reports. The good news is, wait times may be one of the easier things to get in check quickly. This is where patient flow comes in.
What is Patient Flow?
Patient flow refers to the movement of patients through a facility. And it's not just about wayfinding; patient flow is all about how quickly and efficiently the client checks in, sees nurses and doctors, and checks out. To this end, the idea of patient flow goes hand-in-hand with overall patient experience. It's a delicate balance of minimizing wait times and administrative interactions but maximizing the productive face time doctors and nurses spend with patients. In short, successful patient flow means facilities are quickly and effectively moving patients through the system—without compromising the quality of care or patient experience.
Why Does Patient Flow Matter?
As mentioned, Value-Based Care (VBC) has permeated the healthcare industry in the last several years. While not a new concept, elements of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010 increased pressure on healthcare organizations to adhere to increasingly prevalent VBC programs and requirements. This, in turn, raised the stakes when it came to patient experience.
With optimized patient flow, facilities can reduce wait times while increasing the time doctors can spend with patients—two key predictors of patient satisfaction. Boosting patient scores adds up to a real impact on a healthcare organization's bottom line costs and revenue.
How To Assess Patient Flow
Some healthcare facilities know they have issues with wait times, staff coordination and other problems that contribute to poor patient flow. But even for organizations that feel sufficient in this vein, there are almost always patient flow bottlenecks—sometimes unnoticed—that hinder patient experience and impact the bottom line. The only way to identify and fix these hidden issues is to track, assess and analyze specific patient-flow data. And the only way to do that is with a holistic patient flow solution (more on how to do that later).
How Wait Times and Poor Patient Flow Impact Patient Satisfaction
As mentioned, long wait times and disorganization when dealing with patients during their visit can significantly detract from the patient experience. In fact, research reveals these alarming statistics:
- There is a strong correlation between patient wait times and healthcare facility ratings— the higher the wait times, the lower the ratings.
- 30% of patients said they have left a doctor's office because of a long wait time
- 20% of patients who endured long wait times said it made them consider changing providers
- 84% of patients say that wait times are either somewhat or very important to their overall experience with a healthcare provider
As we know, an erosion of patient satisfaction can have a significant impact on the bottom line. For facilities operating under value-based care models, higher patient satisfaction scores are more likely to result in higher reimbursement rates from payers.
But beyond reimbursements, repeat and new business are at stake. Patients who endure long wait times may not return, and negative online reviews can drive away new prospects. Over time, business slows and financials suffer.
How do Patient Flow / Patient Tracking Systems work?
The most impactful patient flow solutions don't just focus on one element of patient flow/tracking, but the big picture. This includes:
- A physical hardware component that alerts staff to patient status, location and/or wait times
- A software component that tracks system input and data (such as how long a patient waits in a room for a doctor)
- A consultative component in which an expert partner helps healthcare providers assess patient flow data and identify and implement areas for improvement
This type of patient flow solution might work something like this:
- The patient flow solution provider customizes and installs a signaling system. These light signaling systems feature strategically placed wall panels throughout each clinic with location-specific, lighted buttons.
- Clinic staff members press buttons to indicate patient location and status (i.e. nurses press a location-specific button to notify doctors that a patient is ready to be seen).
- Visual cues from lighted buttons provide fast, actionable direction at a glance—for a simple way to manage room sequencing and see which patient needs to be seen next
- Comprehensive solutions also leverage large-screen monitors in key clinical areas to provide staff members with a quick view of occupied rooms; patient wait times; staff member locations; and patient visit duration, all in real-time
- These two hardware elements enable staff to make fast changes to relieve patient flow bottlenecks as they occur
- Meanwhile, the software component of the patient flow solution gathers and stores the data from the signaling system in aggregate—to provide a high-level view of average wait times and other key performance indicators.
- Finally, your patient flow solution partner works with your organization to analyze and interpret the data, identifying bottlenecks and ideas for improvement.
Every healthcare provider wishes most to maximize the time they spend with their patient, without getting behind. The best way for this to occur is to improve patient flow - from check-in to check-out. When this occurs, patients are satisfied and revenue is increased.
Watch the video below to see an example of a patient flow solution in action
How Patient Tracking / Patient Flow Solutions Can Improve Your Office Operations
Patient flow is a specific metric that is relatively easy to hone in on and improve (as compared to quality of care and patient-staff rapport, for example, which can be more multifaceted and trickier to address). We see that healthcare providers see near immediate improvements when they implement a patient tracking/patient flow solution—with visible ROI just three months after implementation.
On average, we see that facilities with a strong patient flow system will:
- Save 60 minutes per day (time otherwise wasted when manually tracking and communicating patient status)
- Be able to see two to three more patients per day
- Gain 12% more direct doctor-patient face time for better quality care and higher satisfaction
Let's explore the specific benefits.
For healthcare staff, each day is a game of timing and well-coordinated handoffs—first comes patient check-in; then a staff member brings a patient back and possibly initiates a handoff to a nurse or PA; then, if needed, a visit from the doctor; finally, check out / follow-up appointment rescheduling. All this with multiple patients, arriving at varying times causes log jams, bottlenecks and unnecessary waits.
Oftentimes, light signaling systems and monitors can immediately improve patient flow-just by giving staff fast visual cues. Staff simply glance down the hall at the light panels or look at their monitors to manage room sequencing and see which patient needs to be seen next—quickly.
With patient flow immediately optimized, practitioners can spend more quality time with patients. Doctors and nurses are also less frazzled and rushed during busy periods, resulting in more pleasant patient-practitioner interactions. As noted, we observed that healthcare facilities enjoyed an increase of 12% in doctor-patient face time after implementing a comprehensive patient flow solution.
Patient flow systems not only address the root cause of patient issues (long wait times and lack of time with doctors) but also the ripple effects that result (compromised provider rapport, reduction in quality of care, etc.). This, in turn, gives the patient a perception of a more organized, well-oiled system, which builds confidence and trust, minimizes concerns and generally improves overall satisfaction.
Let's not forget about the staff—a key component to short- and long-term success for any healthcare organization. Patient flow solutions give doctors, nurses and administrative staff the tools they need to have a less stressful, more productive and more fulfilling on-the-job experience. And in a time when healthcare work is more stressful than ever—and labor shortages more dire—staff satisfaction is a crucial piece of the puzzle.
KPIs to Track for Patient Flow
Once you've decided to implement a patient flow solution, it's important to think about how you'll analyze and address the resulting data. This is where having an expert patient flow consultant comes in handy. They'll work with you to identify your immediate and long-term goals, establish key performance indicators (KPIs), determine baseline performance, set goals for future performance, and provide ideas and advice on ways to improve. Some examples of the patient flow KPIs on which to focus include:
Waiting room wait time
Patient wait time in exam room
Doctor time between patients
Doctor/patient encounter time
Door-to-door visit time
Patient satisfaction scores
What is the Best Patient Flow / Patient Tracking System?
When assessing patient flow/patient tracking solutions, focus on the big picture. Most vendors don't offer a fully turnkey solution, meaning you may have to cobble together different elements to create a holistic solution. The physical components of a patient tracking solution are the first step, but you won't see real long-term improvement without the right analytics and consultation. Look for a partner who has deep experience in this area—and a real track record of helping clients see impactful results.
Reach Out To Learn More About the Expeditor Patient Flow Solution
The Expeditor LEAN Patient Flow solution is the only true, door-to-door solution on the market. This solution includes consulting on the design of your light signaling and monitor solutions; manufacturing and installing the physical components and software; providing training; consulting on patient flow data; and recommending ideas for continuous improvement. Far from installing your system and leaving—we stay involved with thorough support and analysis. What's more, we're known for quality light signaling systems that stand the test of time—with an unparalleled service department to handle issues if they do, on the rare occasion, arise.