Patient Flow, Efficiency Tied Up with Office Profitability

Tony Berberabe, MPH @OncBiz_Wiz
Published: Monday, Jan 27, 2014

While hospitals and cancer centers are taking cues from the hospitality industry—think hoteliers like Marriott, Hyatt, and even Ritz-Carlton—office practices are learning that improving the patient flow aids in running an efficient office. That is translating into increased profitability.

That is the crux of a new article from today’s Healthcare Finance News, which draws from a recent study from The Commonwealth Fund. In the study, titled, “In Focus: Improving Patient Flow—In and Out of Hospitals and Beyond,” researchers who focused on ways to smooth the flow of patients in and out of hospitals and other health care settings helped reduce overcrowding, prevented poor handoffs, and avoid delays. These challenges may worsen as more people gain access to insurance coverage and care.

The researchers in the Commonwealth study wrote that “a number of hospitals and health systems are pursuing strategies to improve patient flow such as orchestrating the arrival and discharge of patients undergoing elective procedures and transferring the oversight of patients waiting to be admitted from emergency departments to other hospital units.”

According to the Healthcare Finance News article, a similar plan could work for a physician’s office. For example, routine maintenance visits can be scheduled in advance. These visits could be avoided on Mondays and Fridays—the days when a lot of call-in appointments traditionally occur, the article said.

“The lowest priority for physicians is to have an efficient office, but that is changing as profitability is being tied up in efficiency,” said Frank Cohen, a consultant with the Frank Cohen Group.

Analysis is the best way to figure out the optimal patient flow, says Cohen. He tells Healthcare Finance News that one cancer center he worked with had patients spending nearly a whole day waiting around unnecessarily. Patients were arriving in the morning and getting lab work done. The labs determined if they needed to see a doctor before receiving chemotherapy and how their medication should be compounded. An easy fix was to get blood work done 48 hours prior to an appointment. When they arrived at the center, their medications and doctors were ready.

An organization has to understand its staffing, availability, and patterns. A primary care practice or emergency room may look at the visits over several years and see that flu season and spring allergies cause a gridlock. It can staff heavier to accommodate during those times.

“Customer flow through a Walmart has the same foundational techniques as they do in a physician’s office or hospital,” Cohen said.

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