Gain measurable efficiencies by rethinking the standard approach to patient tracking

May 25, 2017
By Kim Barnhardt, MBA/MHA, BS, RN, CPSO, Manager, Clinical Consulting and Education, Versus Technology

Many of the medical professionals I work with report spending too much time searching for people or equipment. Whether it’s for patients, family members, colleagues, or assets, that lost time is not only highly inefficient, its menial nature contributes to job dissatisfaction and burnout for caregivers who are already overburdened. Addressing these dissatisfiers is not only key to reducing staff burnout and turnover, it also impacts the quality of patient care and the patient experience.

Lessening the frustrations of time spent searching can be achieved with real-time locating solutions (RTLS) that track patients, staff, and assets. Providing visibility to resources within a clinical unit can certainly net productivity gains. However, location information is just the tip of the iceberg in the bigger picture of process improvement. Initiatives related to patient flow require indisputable insight to overall clinical operations that you cannot get through patient location alone.

Effectively measuring and supporting patient flow requires a comprehensive solution that delivers real-time and retrospective business intelligence; for example, capturing real-time patient-caregiver interactions to cue the care team on who has seen the patient and who needs to see them next. This optimized communication helps keep patient flow moving in the moment. Retrospectively, examining data through a robust analytics platform gives the team solid evidence that supports workflow changes and sustains process improvement outcomes.

Capture and communicate patient-caregiver interactions
Courtesy of Versus Technology

As a nurse, I rely on evidence to support treatment planning. When I work with healthcare customers, I apply the same principles to process improvement. Part of what I do is help customers look at RTLS patient flow data through a new lens, blending clinical expertise with in-depth data analysis. The data provides valuable discussion points for Six Sigma, Lean Six Sigma, Kaizen, and other quality management or performance improvement programs. Assessing RTLS data related to top key performance indicators aids us in identifying potential areas for process improvement.

Ongoing review of patient interactions and process trends also allows our clients to make evidence-based adjustments to processes, reallocate resources, and continue measuring successes. Sometimes small adjustments yield big productivity outcomes, and sometimes data reveals that we have further work to do to achieve our objectives. Regardless, studying patient flow data and patient-caregiver interactions provides a defensible mechanism for change.

As overall business objectives drive improvement goals, the analytics measure the impact of efforts and fuel further improvements. Are patients waiting less? Is it easier to secure an appointment? What about satisfaction scores? How does the data improve your goal-setting?

Recently, one of my customers has been leveraging RTLS data to improve room utilization and patient throughput. Data revealed that assigning each physician to a block of exam rooms left many rooms unused for significant amounts of time. As a result, patient wait times were not in sync with clinic goals. Changing the rooming model to dynamic room assignment, or first-come basis, aided by real-time intelligence provided through the RTLS, improved patient throughput. With a focus on a more patient-centered environment, staff continue to examine the data, which may support introducing a self-rooming model in which patients bypass the waiting room altogether and move directly to an exam room.

With accurate RTLS data, available both in real-time and retrospectively, there are many opportunities to make and measure improvements, from patient flow and room utilization to resource allocation and patient satisfaction. However, you cannot get there with “patient tracking” alone. To begin the process improvement journey and guarantee successful outcomes, a diverse cross-section of the team needs to discuss workflow challenges from each perspective. Consider the insights of leadership, providers, front-line caregivers, registration staff, and the various roles intersecting the patient visit. Broad insight will enable the team to successfully map out the typical patient visit flow and highlight process gaps or areas for improvement.

Then, implement RTLS as part of an overall patient flow initiative, not to “track” patients and care teams, but to enhance productivity and the patient experience. The measure of success will be evident in the data.