MedCity Influencers, Hospitals

Delivering operational command centers: improve patient access, throughput and financial stability for health systems

Operational command centers at hospitals can have positive outcomes for both patient satisfaction, patient flow and financial gains.

The healthcare industry has grown significantly in the last several years and the number of patients seeking emergency room and other medical services continues to grow. An increase in patients typically results in increased patient wait times. In a survey of 200 hospital administrators by the American College of Emergency, Physicians, overcrowding is one of the top five management concerns. And, forty-eight percent said that their hospital failed more than half the time to meet the goal of admitting patients from the emergency department within two hours of arrival.

The operational command center model is changing the way hospitals manage patient flow across the entire care continuum. Reducing time for patient access is a complex problem to be solved as populations grow and age. Spending on healthcare has become a matter of national attention with fast-rising costs and variable quality outcomes. Operational command centers eliminate waste at the core by enabling visibility, alignment and resource coordination across health systems. From the home to community care, to acute and specialty care, to post-acute care – health systems require coordination.

An essential part of providing quality medical care is providing timely care. With limited resources and frequently a shortage of employees, patients start to see their wait times steadily increase leading to patients waiting for the care they need. With this steady growth in mind, healthcare facilities are searching for ways to optimize their patient throughput and decrease patient wait time, which is a key driver of patient experience. 

What is Patient Throughput?
Patient throughput refers to the number of patients seen over a given period of time. A goal for healthcare facilities is to provide quality care while ensuring no patient waits for the care they need. The right amount of time may vary for each patient, but it is the operational process of delivering high-quality care that is often the challenge. Hospital throughput is a marker of quality. If patients do not receive timely treatment and then are not discharged when they should be, the result is a backlog of patients waiting, and a shortage of beds for incoming patients. As clinical experts, we know that improving patient throughput isn’t just a goal to see patients as quickly as possible, it is a complex initiative, making sure patients receive quality care at the right time, in the right venue, with the right clinical experts. Healthcare facilities have reduced overcrowding and long wait times by focusing on patient throughput using not only patient management technology solutions but incorporating best practices as well.

Why Patient Throughput Matters
Patient wait times encompass the time patients spend waiting to see a doctor, but also new patients trying to get an appointment. The search firm Merritt Hawkins conducted a recent survey and found that the time it takes to schedule a new-patient physician appointment in 15 major areas has increased by 30 percent since 2014. Impacts of being full or not accepting new patients are significant, as new patients are unable to get an appointment because facilities have a backlog of current patents.

Not only are extended wait times frustrating to the patient, causing many to leave without being seen [LWBS] or take business elsewhere, patients who have to wait too long for treatment also run the risk of their condition worsening.

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A Deep-dive Into Specialty Pharma

A specialty drug is a class of prescription medications used to treat complex, chronic or rare medical conditions. Although this classification was originally intended to define the treatment of rare, also termed “orphan” diseases, affecting fewer than 200,000 people in the US, more recently, specialty drugs have emerged as the cornerstone of treatment for chronic and complex diseases such as cancer, autoimmune conditions, diabetes, hepatitis C, and HIV/AIDS.

The 9th Annual Vitals Wait Time Report found that 84 percent of people believed that patient wait time was either “somewhat important” or “very important” to their overall doctor office experience. Another 30 percent admitted that they had walked out of appointments due to long wait times, while 1 in 5 reported that long wait times had caused them to change doctors. The wait time also played a role in how patients ranked doctors. Those with lower wait times received higher ratings while those with the highest wait times received the lowest ratings.

Health system operational inefficiency leads to delays at each level of the patient journey, impacting hundreds of thousands of patients daily. Delayed patient discharges from acute care, delays patients waiting to be admitted. Patients in the intensive care units are blocked from transferring to less acute telemetry unit beds. While patients in emergency departments, post-anesthesia care units, and transfers from less equipped hospitals are also forced to wait. Each four-hour block of waiting correlates to increased morbidity and mortality. The problem is not one area, it is the accumulation of waits across the entire system that end up causing harm to patients, frustrating clinicians, and impacting financial performance. 

Improving Patient Flow
Health systems must focus on proven patient throughput solutions and best practices to improve patient flow. A strategic plan to improve patient flow is interdisciplinary and multifaceted–it is imperative that high-level support encourages compliance from the entire system towards a common goal. While the emergency department is often one of the busiest areas, focusing on one area will not significantly impact patient throughput. Best practices paired with leading patient throughput solutions bring outcomes and substantially increased revenue.

To improve hospital throughput, the system in place must account for every patient that comes through the health system to maximize patient care within each department. A change in one department will ultimately affect another department. In a hospital, setting how fast a patient goes through the admittance process will have a direct effect on when treatment can begin and how quickly the patient is released. Each department must be held accountable for their particular role to increase overall efficiency.

Operational Command Centers and Patient Throughput
In a recent study by KLAS, Operational Command Centers were found to have significant outcomes. Some of the positive outcomes included 96 percent reported improved patient flow and 78 percent reported financial gains from their operational command center. 

The healthcare industry has come a long way when it comes to patient throughput and many improvements have been made but more improvements can be made using today’s technology. 

Photo: Martin Barraud, Getty Images

As the Director of Product Management at TeleTracking , Dr. Scott Newton has more than 30 years of experience in healthcare—working as an EMT, a nurse, an educator and a patient flow command center leader—he is also a trusted adviser and thought leader.
Scott has deep knowledge of the healthcare system and understands that success is tied to high reliability, just-in-time responses, and responsible solutions—that it’s about getting it right the first time for patients and clinicians.
A graduate of the Doctor of Nursing Practice program at Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, Scott built a Command Center as an output of his doctoral project and believes that as healthcare continues to evolve, patient flow will play an even more prominent role across the care continuum.

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