Improving Hospital Workflows

Improving hospital workflows is something that concerns senior healthcare management at all levels. Increasing ROI – while remaining attuned to the needs of key employees and delivering a high standard of patient care – is a chief gauge of the success of a healthcare group. One of the acknowledged methods of achieving this goal is by achieving workflow optimization in hospitals.

Fine-tuning hospital workflow management is a complex business. Many decisions made by senior management in order to reach workflow optimization in hospitals impact everybody within the hospital environment – including patients. Unhappy employees and unhappy patients will not achieve the objective of improving hospital workflows, and likely have a negative effect on ROI.

In the highly regulated healthcare sector, the process of assessing how to improve hospital workflows also has to take into account regulations managing how certain activities are conducted. One of these activities – the communication of electronic Protected Healthcare Information (ePHI) – is governed by several sets of regulations (HIPAA, HITECH, etc.). A solution is available for the communication of ePHI that has been proven to improve hospital workflows, increase productivity and help to deliver a higher standard of patient care – secure messaging.

Secure Messaging and Fine-Tuning Hospital Workflow Management

Secure messaging is a HIPAA-compliant communications solution that can be implemented in place of unsafe and outmoded channels of communication such as voice mail, email, pagers and fax machines – channels of communication that often inhibit vital workflows due to medical professionals playing phone tag in order to allow hospital admissions, request physician consults, obtain lab results, organize the transition of care and arrange patient discharges.

Each of these processes has its workflow in place but – frequently – outmoded channels of communication prevent them from flowing as smoothly as they must. The resulting communication friction wastes time, erodes staff moral and delays patient care. With secure messaging, the mechanisms in place to allow message accountability improve hospital workflows – eliminating the waste of resources and allowing medical professionals to spend extra time with their patients.

The implementation of secure messaging will not alter the way in which these processes are conducted, just fine-tune hospital workflow management. In each of the sections here, we show how secure messaging can help to achieve workflow optimization in hospitals in specific scenarios. Not every case will apply to every medical facility, but the examples provided have three things in common:

  • Secure messaging minimizes risk, helps healthcare organizations adhere with HIPAA and qualify for payments through the Meaningful Use incentive program.
  • Secure messaging offers quicker, more effective communication that helps healthcare worker treat more patients with better success rates in less time.
  • Secure messaging enables healthcare workers to use their personal mobile devices for such duties as prioritizing their workflows and fostering collaboration.

Workflow Efficiency in Hospital Emergency Room

One of the areas of a hospital´s operations where fast, secure communications are key to a successful result is its Emergency Room. It is in the Emergency Room where vitall decisions are made relating to a patient’s treatment healthcare that can have permanent implications for their wellbeing. However, even before patients arrive at a hospital Emergency Room, there are ways in which secure messaging can enhance hospital Emergency Room workflow efficiency.

First responders and Emergency Medical Services can forewarn healthcare workers of incoming patients and their injuries, sending images and video to secure messages in order to give a more thorough explanation of the patient’s current condition than any pager or radio message can. With these details, Emergency Room teams are in a better position to receive the patient and have the necessary resources available to attend to them.

The ability to share images and videos via secure messaging also enables the fast evaluation of patients by consultants not actually present in an Emergency Room. This not only assist in eliminating admission delays and ensuring that patients requiring inpatient treatment receive it quicker, but also increases hospital Emergency Room workflow efficiency for “treat and release” patients, who may otherwise be backlogged due to priority case congestion.

Workflow Efficiency and Hospital Admission

In a 2010 study released by BioMed Central (BMC), admission delays were found to lead to an increased inpatient length of stay and estimated to cost an average-sized healthcare organization in excess of $2 million per year. It also found that hospital admission workflow efficiency was influenced more by factors external to the Emergency Department than the admissions process itself.

Whereas some factors cannot be addressed using secure messaging, significant improvements to hospital admission workflow efficiency can be achieved with secure messaging. Bed availability can be monitored with secure texting, lab turnaround can be speeded up using secure texting, and the latest secure messaging apps have an auto-forward feature so that, if one particular physician is unavailable, a consult request is sent to another physician who can step in and eliminate the potential admission delay.

Orders can be placed through a secure group messaging feature that issues automated alerts to the unit managers and nurses who will be responsible for the patient’s healthcare. Unit managers, nurses and administrators can seek order clarification by secure messaging if required, and receive fast responses from physicians – or their deputies if not available. Physicians can also receive lab results and radiology images the moment they are admitted into the EMR in order to accelerate diagnoses and decrease the number of redundant tests.

Workflow Efficiency in the Hospital Laboratory

Hospital laboratories play a vital role in the healthcare system. Labs in hospitals and clinics perform over seven billion tests annually, and lab results influence over 70% of all medical decisions. Each specimen passes through up to a dozen steps from collection to the delivery of laboratory results; and, while processes are in place to maximize hospital laboratory workflow efficiency, some of these steps are often performed manually – not only adding time to lab turnaround, but risking mistakes that can compromise patient safety.

According to a study carried out by the Tepper School of Business at the Carnegie Mellon University, the integration of secure messaging solutions with EMRs reduces the risks of patient safety events by 27%. Experts found that the implementation and integration of secure messaging helped with the proper ordering and follow-up of the right test, correct patient identification, and the correct communication of test results, specimen quality and delivery issues.

When labs results show a serious and urgent health issue, healthcare workers must take immediate action to avoid a patient´s condition worsening. Integrating secure messaging into an EMR ensures lab results do not remain in a physician’s inbox until he or she has time to attend to them. Instead, EMR alerts are automatically sent and reviewed the moment updates are added to the patient´s medical record, increasing hospital laboratory workflow efficiency and, possibly, saving lives.

Workflow Efficiency and Hospital Pharmacy

An example of how workflow optimization in hospitals can be negatively impacted by outside events is in the hospital pharmacy. Most pharmacies have the key elements in place to optimize hospital pharmacy workflow efficiency – a good system of work, team members with the right skill sets, and an environment that allows prescriptions to be filled accurately and efficiently. However, the optimization of hospital pharmacy workflow efficiency is often affected by addressing insurance issues and physician callbacks to confirm scripts.

With secure messaging, the problems of insurance and physician callbacks do not disappear, but the duration of time attending to them decreases. With secure messaging, a pharmacist can address a payment issue or share a request for order clarification to a physician, safe in the knowledge that their message is 100% guaranteed to be received and likely to be answered at the first practical chance. Phone tag and workload increases are reduced, while pharmacies are more able to give high-quality patient care and maintain employee job satisfaction.

Along with helping optimize hospital pharmacy workflow efficiency, secure messaging can help both in-house and off-site pharmacies adhere with the conditions for the Meaningful Use incentive program. The electronic exchange of data, electronic prescription hand-offs, and the monitoring of medication journeys are all Meaningful Use requirements that can be carried out using secure messaging – securely, from a mobile phone and with no risk of a data breach.

Workflow Efficiency and Hospital Discharge

During a patient’s stay in a hospital, secure messaging allows healthcare professionals to improve hospital workflows and coordinate the transition of care. With secure messaging cutting out the short delays that can stack up and push patients past the 72-hour Medicare reimbursement window for many procedures, patient stays are shorter, hospital beds become available quicker and bottlenecks stopping hospital admission workflow efficiency are averted.

When it comes to hospital discharge workflow efficiency, secure messaging once again has a vital role to play in increasing productivity and ensuring a higher standard of patient care. Often, physicians will clear a patient to go home; but, due to discharge orders remaining unnoticed in the EMR, unnecessary delays happen. With secure messaging, automated alerts are sent to each member of the discharge team so that discharge planners, unit secretaries, nurses and other team members are kept up to date and move the patient through the discharge process quickly.

A normal communication path to optimize hospital discharge efficiency with secure messaging would be:

  • Physician logs ask for patient discharge into the EMR from his/her mobile device.
  • Nurse and unit secretary are automatically notified. Discharge order submitted to EMR.
  • Discharge planner arranges medical reconciliation. Nurse advises patient.
  • Nurse contacts patient’s family to set up transportation.
About Thomas Brown
Thomas Brown worked as a reporter for several years on ComplianceHome. Thomas a seasoned journalist with several years experience in the healthcare sector and has contributed to healthcare and information technology news publishers. Thomas has a particular interest in the application of healthcare information technology to better serve the interest of patients, including areas should has data protection and innovations such as telehealth.