Understanding, Controlling, and Improving Patient Flow in Healthcare Facilities Using Location Based Solutions

August 25, 2022

Healthcare facility managers need to clearly and fully understand the obstacles their facilities face

One of the most important aspects of a healthcare facility is patient flow. Without applying patient flow best practices in hospitals, common obstacles like long wait times, delays, and cancellations can slow down efficiency. For patients and caregivers alike, these problems can cause major issues.

Understanding the best practices for wayfinding design is a good start — but for patient flow, it’s important to get to the root of the issue as well. Healthcare facility managers need to clearly and fully understand the obstacles their facilities face to provide the best care possible.

The Definition of Patient Flow

Patient flow is defined as the movement of patients throughout a healthcare facility. To create an environment with effective patient flow, healthcare administrators utilize different forms of technology, from physical resources such as signs to designated software. 

RTLS technology is a common tool for improving patient flow. With a better understanding of the movements of staff and patients alike, healthcare facility administrators and staff can more accurately react to what is happening inside of the healthcare facility’s ecosystem. Ensuring patient flow is happening efficiently while constantly improving is an essential part of management in hospitals and healthcare facilities. 

Why Hospitals Get Backed Up Due to Poor Patient Flow

There are multiple examples of and reasons why hospitals get backed up due to poor patient flow. Determining where these bottlenecks occur is vital to understanding how to overcome them.

The Emergency Department Is a Major Culprit for Patient Flow

A major area of poor patient flow within facilities occurs in overcrowded emergency rooms. Hospitals can predict emergency room traffic by analyzing patterns of behavior, but that’s not a guarantee for creating successful patient flow. 

The lack of effective patient flow in the emergency department can lead to long wait times, ambulance confusion or diversions to other healthcare facilities, delays in discharging patients, or overloading patient boarding, which is when patients are admitted without an available bed in the hospital. These issues greatly diminish the patient experience, and make work harder for providers.

Inefficient Scheduling for Surgeries and More

Inefficient scheduling also leads to issues of patient flow, especially within surgical departments. Unideal patient flow here is a direct result of the common approach to surgery, which is to schedule a patient at an earlier time in the week so they can recover later in the week when the hospital has the highest amount of resources.

While the traditional standard for scheduling, this style proves unintuitive for patient flow. Because of this, post-operative units become overcrowded, stretching the support staff thin.

Disorganized Handoffs Between Departments

At their core, any healthcare facility is an ecosystem made up of different departments that serve different patient needs. But that doesn’t mean these parts work seamlessly together. 

Disorganized handoffs between different caregivers or departments can disrupt the flow, causing unintentional and annoying delays in treatment for patients. Ultimately, these poor handoffs can lead to a negative patient experience and confusion amongst staff.

How To Improve Patient Flow In Hospitals, Ambulatory Clinics, and Urgent Care Facilities

There are multiple patient flow best practices that hospitals can leverage to improve their experiences for staff and patients. One of the primary ways to implement more effective patient flows is by utilizing RTLS solutions — here are a few ways this technology can be used to improve the systems in your healthcare facility. 

Analyzing Patient Wait Times to Optimize Staffing Capacity/Distribution

Understanding when facilities are busy versus slow is an obvious but vital step to creating effective patient flow. Breaking down patient wait times will provide a larger picture of a facility’s operations and what it can handle.

RTLS patient tracking solutions offer insight into how much time patients are spending in any key steps of their care journey. For example, a hospital can understand average wait times in patient waiting rooms and average time spent in each of the caregiving steps. By analyzing this data, the hospital can optimize staff capacity, thus leading to a better patient experience in the facility. 

Providing Wayfinding Tools to Individually Navigate Healthcare Facilities

Hospitals and other healthcare facilities can be confusing places — especially for patients already working through stressful treatments. Lost or confused patients create hospital bottlenecks, slowing flow and distracting providers from care.

Trust patients to find their way by providing wayfinding tools. By putting the power to navigate in a patient’s hands, digital wayfinding apps create less confused patients in hallways and common areas. As patients get to areas faster, their experience improves, while streamlining operations for employees.

Empowering Patients with Personalized Alerts and Notifications

Providers can take wayfinding a step further by utilizing personalized patient alerts and notifications. Healthcare RTLS technology within a digital front door solution provides precise information about a patient's location, and sends them information accordingly.  

Once implemented, these alerts can be adaptable and automatic. Take, for example, a patient entering a waiting room. Through geofencing that uses RTLS, a patient may receive a push notification prompting mobile check-in, thus helping patient flow and reducing bottlenecks caused by long lines.   

RTLS Solutions Are the Ideal Way to Leverage Patient Tracking

By breaking down common patient flow obstacles in healthcare facilities, healthcare administrators can not only grasp the everyday challenges that their staff members face but provide genuine and effective patient flow solutions — all by utilizing RTLS technology.

Cox Prosight encompasses intuitive patient tracking capabilities — alongside asset tracking and staff safety systems. Explore even more of the ways RTLS healthcare technology can improve hospital operations at our blog.

Jaiganesh Balasubramanian
Director, Product and Technology

Jai is a product and technology executive with demonstrated history in building and growing several brands and businesses in the Smart building and Healthcare space. Jai joined Cox Prosight in 2020 and is responsible for developing and executing the company’s Smart Hospital strategy, including solution and partnership development, investments, acquisitions, and business growth. Prior to Cox, Jai led the development and management of IoT smart and connected building technologies with a specialty in building automation systems and location-based solutions and has a track record of achieving growth and penetration into new market segments. Jai holds an MBA from Cornell University and M.S. in Electrical Engineering from Northern Illinois University. Jai, his wife, and two children live in Atlanta, GA.