As doctors and health systems face mounting pressure to improve efficiency, boost patient satisfaction, and increase their bottom lines, patient flow will play an integral role in running a successful practice.
What is patient flow?
Patient flow is the movement of patients through a doctor’s office, hospital, or health system in an easy, seamless, and efficient manner. Patient flow represents every touch point during the patient visit experience, from arrival to departure. It encompasses everything from patients arriving at the facility to checking out at the reception desk. When patient-flow strategies work, patients move from check-in to check-out in a way that maintains the quality of care and improves patient experience.
Why is patient flow important?
Improving patient flow can increase patient satisfaction, improve the efficiency of a medical practice, and drive revenue. In fact, according to a January 2011 study in the journal Health Affairs, patient-flow strategies can be used to manage fluctuations in demand, reduce costs, and boost revenue.
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Patient flow ensures that practices operate at full capacity, doctors optimize time with patients, and time-wasting processes are minimized.
When patients can easily locate and navigate a practice, see a doctor without waiting long, and generally have a positive experience, you can expect results. Their satisfaction, engagement, and retention rates will improve.
Who should take the lead on patient flow?
All staff members must be accountable for patient flow, whether they’re doctors, administrative employees, medical assistants, or healthcare executives. In a hospital setting, patient flow should be owned by the COO, CNO, or clinical integration officer. In a doctor’s office, a practice administrator ideally manages patient flow.
How to make patient flow more efficient
Patient flow doesn’t have to be time-consuming or costly. These 5 easy patient flow strategies can be implemented by any doctor’s office or healthcare system.
1. Make it easy
When location, parking, and accessibility within the medical facility are sources of frustration for patients, patient flow suffers. If parking spots are hard to come by, patients may be late for appointments, thereby affecting swift patient flow. And, if they don’t show up at all because they can’t find parking, it affects revenue.
Make sure signs in the parking lot, lobby, and office building are easy to understand so that patients can find the right building, floor, and office. If you’re considering a new location, choose an office with ample space so that elderly, injured, and disabled patients can be dropped off at the entrance.
2. Direct traffic
When patients cross paths with one another — while checking in and checking out, for instance — it can increase patient frustration and reduce patient flow. Have separate check-in and check-out areas. Or consider creating areas based on appointment type. Patients visiting your office for a routine physical, for instance, could take a different path to and from exam rooms than patients who are sick or coming in for long-term treatments.
Implementing a well-designed strategy for organizing patients in the waiting room, and determining where they’re placed in exam rooms, can help reduce patient wait times and improve efficiency. According to a September 2014 study in the journal Pain Medicine, when trainees at John Hopkins Outpatient Center were assigned cases the day before patient visits, and then reviewed their cases with attending physicians, patient wait time, flow time, and clinical session duration all decreased.
3. Prioritize scheduling
Long wait times aren’t good for your patients or your practice. When designing your appointment schedule, avoid over-booking providers and consider the number of exam rooms a provider can handle at once. Extra “swing rooms,” which can be used by several doctors, can keep your practice running on schedule when demand is high or a visit takes longer than expected.
4. Have a home base
According to a 2017 study in the journal Annals of Family Medicine, primary care doctors spend more than 50 percent of their day on EHR tasks. Setting up a communal touch station, however, gives doctors a designated place to write notes and complete charting so they don’t have to return to the nurses’ station or their offices. This way, doctors can get through paperwork quickly and move on to the next patient without delay.
5. Identify bottlenecks
Medical supplies should be easily accessible to doctors and staff. Consider where supplies are kept, how often they’re replenished, and how staff members reach them. You might decide to put supplies in a central storage area or a mobile supply cart, or keep each exam room fully stocked.