Healthcare

Patient Throughput: Why it Matters and How You Can Improve It

To ensure success and patient satisfaction, hospitals should perform like a well-oiled machine. This includes everything from when a patient first comes through the doors to when they’re packing up to return home. 

“It’s important to keep patients moving throughout the facility with less wait time, less confusion, and less stress,” says David Kraeger, President of Healthcare Diversifications at HHS.

“Anytime a nurse or clinical team member spends time transporting a patient rather than on the floor, it can greatly affect throughput times and create inefficient patient flow.” 

In this article, we’ll define patient throughput, common approaches and misconceptions, and the impact of improving the process.

What is Patient Throughput?

Simply put, patient throughput is the process of admitting, treating, and discharging patients, and the efficiency at which your facility does so. 

So, why should this be a priority? It affects all aspects of the experience at a facility. When not operating as effectively and successfully as possible, it can cause a significant loss of time, money, and resources, and ultimately impact the care of your patients.

With a dedicated patient flow or transport team, you can give 7,000 hours back to nursing staff every year. This leads to better nurse-to-patient ratios, which can positively impact readmission rates, nursing burnout, and patient satisfaction.

Decentralized vs. Centralized Model

There are two approaches to patient flow programs, a decentralized and a centralized model. We’ll break it down.

In a decentralized model, transporters belong to one unit. For example, say a transporter is designated for the MRI department. A decentralized transporter will bring patients to and from their MRI, however while the MRI is being performed, which can often take up to an hour, the transporter has to wait for the patient, thus slowing down productivity.

In a centralized model, transporters are trained in all areas of the hospital and can remain productive while scans and tests are being performed. For example, while one patient gets an MRI done, their transporter can go to the emergency room to admit another patient. This helps eliminate the unproductive time of transporters found in the decentralized model and increases the overall patient throughput, saving you valuable time and increasing productivity.

Centralized patient transport teams not only have a major impact on overall throughput, but they also diminish charges that inefficient hospitals may face — such as patient hold times in the emergency room or in the operating room. 

When a patient gets held in the operating room, it can be costly due to the patient being under the care of a surgeon and an anesthesiologist. This is often caused by delays in throughput, such as equipment availability, staffing, and transport delays. 

These delays can be related to a variety of issues, such as equipment availability, bed availability, staffing, and transport delays. Efficient centralized patient transport teams are highly trained to help the success of the throughput process and help decrease those delays by maximizing productivity..

“They do not simply manage the transport process, they actively seek ways to increase effectiveness and improve results,” says Kraeger. 

Through ongoing, in-depth analysis of discharge times and patterns, transport teams can provide greater accuracy to the patient flow process. Further, by effectively measuring results and utilizing technology specific to the industry, transport teams can improve operational excellence and resolve any issues that need to be addressed quickly.

Impact of Improved Patient Throughput

While improving patient throughput may not be top of mind — it should be. The purpose of a healthcare facility is to help patients become well. Often, we may only view this as recruiting outstanding clinicians or keeping facilities pristine, which all ring true. However, when you make the adjustments to improve the throughput process, you’re improving the care of your patients.

With dedicated patient flow teams, you allow physicians to focus on their expertise and enhance the overall experience for patients and staff. This ensures patients are cared for every step of the way, efficiently and successfully. 

The three main ways to improve throughput are 

  • Collaborating with departments that receive and request patients to determine how much movement is occuring in the hospital on a daily basis
  • Having conversations within leadership to understand the value of improved patient throughput
  • Analyzing your facility's notification processes and using that to help identify opportunities for improvement on the throughput process

The Takeaway

Though changes in patient transport may feel small, they can deliver big, impactful results to your entire facility. Improved throughput can mean cost savings, increased efficiency and productivity across all departments, and an enhanced experience for patients, visitors, and staff.

The objective is to make the experience as smooth and efficient as possible because that efficiency — and helping patients go from sick to well — is what drives patient satisfaction and improves these processes.