Patient flow is often viewed as a problem that strictly affects hospitals and other healthcare facilities, as discharge delays lead to logjams in waiting rooms. It’s certainly true that patient flow is a major concern for hospital administrators looking to keep their staffing and facility costs down, but patient flow has far-reaching effects beyond the hospital and point of care, as it impacts patient outcomes in equal measure.
Addressing patient flow bottlenecks and pain points benefits all aspects of this relationship can help hospitals reduce costs and produce better outcomes for their patients.
Patient flow issues impede quality healthcare
Hospitals typically get a closer view of the negative effects of patient flow problems, as related issues can range from overcrowding in emergency rooms to significantly increased labor costs. When admission and discharge workflows are slow or inefficient, it will take longer to roll over hospital beds and treat more patients.
As a result, patients waiting to see a physician may spill over into the emergency room. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, approximately 90% of hospitals hold admitted patients in their emergency departments while waiting for inpatient beds to open up. The effect that practice has on ER operations is enormous: Almost half of all emergency departments in the United States operate either at or above their capacity.
That, in turn, increases facility costs and potentially reduces the quality of care. Medical staff may need to work overtime and additional shifts to see all patients waiting for treatment, putting a major dent in their budgets. In order to get to every patient and roll over inpatient beds as quickly as possible, staff may not be able to give each person their full attention.
When the priority is to discharge patients and clear out waiting rooms, quality of care may suffer. There’s a greater risk of medical practitioners making an error, whether it’s a misdiagnosis or making a mistake during a routine procedure that puts a patient’s health in jeopardy.
More ER visits hurt hospital bottom lines
Another concern with poor patient flow is how it can lead to more emergency room visits for patients who failed to receive preventative care. If a patient is late for a consultation, physical or other non-emergency session, their appointment will likely be cancelled, and they will be forced to reschedule. They may not be able to schedule a new appointment for months, at which time an underlying medical issue could go unnoticed and worsen.
Eventually, the problem can become so severe that the individual needs to seek immediate treatment, going to the emergency room. The cost of treating that ailment will have gone up considerably compared with catching it early during that initial appointment.
A similar scenario could play out on the discharge side of patient flow as well. A patient who has finished seeing a physician could be stuck waiting for a ride back home, and cannot be discharged. In the meantime, that hospital bed or room cannot be used to see other patients, causing significant delays in the waiting room. Initial appointment times are pushed back or potentially cancelled altogether. Just as before, individuals may not receive preventative that would save them a trip to the ER later on.
How NEMT solutions can help
Having reliable non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT) services is essential for addressing patient flow issues and getting beneficiaries to their destinations on time. High-quality NEMT solutions consistently adhere to schedules so patients always receive the best service quality at both ends of the patient flow process.
That means happier patients who are more likely to stick with their hospitals or treatment centers, which can mean better health outcomes for them.
Hospitals benefit immensely from high-quality NEMT solutions More patients will receive preventative care because they can reliably get to their appointments on time. And that means fewer people coming to the emergency room for expensive treatment. With reliable NEMT services, everyone wins.