IHI: 5 strategies to improve patient flow

The Institute for Healthcare Improvement shared five ways hospitals can improve patient flow in a Nov. 8 blog post.

1. Make patient flow a strategic priority. Patient flow issues can prevent clinicians from providing the right care, in the right place, at the right time. "Without addressing flow as a strategic priority, clinicians and hospital staff are left to fix flow failures on an ad-hoc, reactive basis — repeatedly addressing the same problems and flow failures without addressing recurring system constraints and inefficiencies," according to IHI. The organization said leaders should focus on the following four components to make patient flow a strategic priority at their organization:

    • Carefully craft and communicate a long-term goal and the rationale behind the vision
    • Establish structures to execute on systemwide improvement, not just localized initiatives
    • Be prepared to solve difficult dilemmas in a timely manner
    • Pinpoint a few important initiatives to demonstrate organizational capability before expanding to hospitalwide flow initiatives

  1. Align medical staff and hospital executives. A positive relationship between hospital leaders, who identify organizational priorities, and clinicians, who implement these changes on the frontlines, is crucial. Leaders should involve clinical stakeholders in the change process, have honest discussions with them and partake in clear data analysis before implementing a patient flow initiative.

  1. Implement value-based care models. "Timely access to care providers and community services, a proactive approach to care management and coordination, and collaborations among healthcare providers across the continuum of care to best meet the needs of patient populations often reduce patients' need for acute care services and hospitalizations," IHI wrote. A more proactive, value-based approach to healthcare can help ensure patients seek care in the right environment and limit patient flow issues at hospitals.

  1. Demonstrate the financial benefits of improved patient flow. Hospitals can achieve a positive return on investment through patient flow improvements in both value-based and fee-for-service models, according to IHI. "With a systemwide approach to improving flow, hospitals can more effectively manage these fluctuations [in patient demand] and thereby reduce costs and retain more revenue within the hospital system," the organization wrote.

  1. Incorporate individual departments and units' workflows into hospitalwide patient flow strategies. "Implementing and sustaining improvements in hospitalwide flow requires alignment, cooperation and coordination between hospital units and departments," said IHI. To ensure all team members are on the same page, leaders must present the patient flow improvements as a systemwide issue with cross-departmental improvement opportunities. Implementing a shared system of measures throughout the hospital to assess progress is also a helpful tactic, according to IHI.

To learn more about these strategies, detailed in a recent IHI whitepaper, click here.

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