The art of simplicity: How to streamline patient access and reduce staff burden

The workforce crisis has made it difficult for healthcare organizations to support employees, deliver clinical excellence and prioritize the patient experience. To transform operations and address these issues, many hospitals and health systems are turning to technology and digital solutions. 

During a Becker's Healthcare webinar sponsored by Relatient, a panel of healthcare leaders discussed how their organizations are streamlining patient access and reducing staff burden: 

  • Orla Brandos, vice president of patient care services/chief nursing officer at Newport Hospital in Newport, R.I.
  • David Dyke, chief product officer, Relatient
  • Mack Howell, chief operating officer, Owensboro Health in Owensboro, Ky.
  • Pradipta Komanduri, chief operating officer, University of Colorado Hospital, UCHealth in Aurora, Colo.
  • Jaime Mathews, vice president of patient access, Dignity Health Medical Foundation in Sacramento, Calif.
  • Angelo Venditti, executive vice president, chief nurse executive, chief patient experience officer, Temple Health in Philadelphia

Six key takeaways were: 

  1. As organizations grapple with turnover and attrition, knowledge management and onboarding have become high priorities. When employees leave a health system, they often take valuable organizational knowledge with them. "Our software solutions enable health systems to codify rules and policies into their workflows so that people aren't dependent on 'urban legend' to understand how things are done," Mr. Dyke said. Onboarding new employees rapidly and efficiently is also critically important in today's environment. To address this need, Relatient has incorporated guides and tools into its applications to reduce the ramp-up time for new team members.

  1. A multimodal approach can be effective for improving employee retention. Temple Health has adopted several programs to support staff at all levels. The organization runs a team-based leadership model in each area and many nursing leaders now work four-day-a-week schedules. "Since we moved to that model, we haven't lost any leaders, so we think it's working," Mr. Venditti said. Temple Health has also deployed an app for employees that are stressed or need support. To date, there have been over 50,000 inquiries through the app. "The pandemic caused employees to re-evaluate their priorities. We are using a multimodal approach to play to those priorities a little differently," Mr. Venditti explained.

  1. Healthcare leaders must accommodate provider preferences and deliver an excellent patient experience. "We all want access for our patients, but we must do that in ways that are aligned with the workday cadence and flow of our caregivers. That enables us to start from common ground," Ms. Mathews said. Dignity Health Medical Foundation's leadership team is proactively working with clinicians on schedules to ensure that the right patients come in at the right time and that the care they receive is appropriate. Approaching the work in a collaborative way has given leaders insight into the full landscape and how people can work together to drive improvement.

  1. It must be easier for patients to get care. "Patients don't sit around saying they need more access. They just want to see their primary care provider rapidly," Mr. Howell said. "We need to make the system more consumer friendly and easy to navigate." At Owensboro Health, online appointment scheduling is a big opportunity area, since only around 4 percent of patients now use the online portal. "If we can get people in quickly, then the experts can help them with their next episode of care," Mr. Howell added.

  1. Technology can improve access throughout the patient journey. Patient access isn't just an inpatient problem. It relates to the entire care continuum. "For any patient that comes through our system, we want to know how they are accessing our 'front door.' That helps us meet them where they're at," Ms. Komanduri said. As patients move through the continuum of care at UCHealth, back-end systems anticipate their needs. "We want the right triggers in place to understand the patient. What is their next step and how will we loop them back into our system? Having integrated technology is important," Ms. Komanduri added. Technology alone, however, isn't enough. "Patient access is a team sport. You must work with people across and outside your organization and identify what technology can solve for. Co-design and co-create. All of this work is a big change management exercise and within that, you must find where digital solutions can make things work better," Ms. Mathews said. 

  1. To deliver excellent care in a timely manner, hospitals and health systems must maximize the use of optimized technology. "The healthcare paradigm has shifted and transformational leaders need to be nimble and embrace change," Ms. Brandos said. To that end, Newport Hospital is leveraging telehealth to provide high-quality care, increase patient satisfaction and reduce lengths of stay. The organization has integrated telehealth into its partial hospitalization program for behavioral health patients, as well as in the ICU. "We've implemented a new tele-ICU since there is such as shortage of intensivists," Ms. Brandos said. "To find providers in certain specialties, we must think outside the box." 

While healthcare leaders have made great progress, more work remains. "We need to get re-centered around our missions. We don't want to end up in a situation where we are trying to do things in the same way with fewer people. That isn't a recipe for success," Ms. Komanduri said. 

The path ahead will require optimism and resilience. "Everyone is working hard to move healthcare forward and we will all have a brighter and better healthcare system for it," Mr. Venditti said. "So, let's not be too hard on ourselves. We have a lot of great things to share, but we still have a long way to go."

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