Vantage Answers Your Healthcare Technology and Design Questions
Because we are involved in many new hospital design projects and are closely following the healthcare technology space, Associate Alexis Diamond regularly fields inquiries from our architect clients in the healthcare realm.
Question – What’s the Best Way to Assign Patients to the Next Available Room?
Here is a question we received recently:
“We want to use technology to assign patients to the next available exam room to improve patient flow and satisfaction.
- What is the best way to accomplish patient assignment?
- What are the benefits of using technology to manage patient throughput?”
What is the best way to accomplish patient assignment?
Improving the assignment and tracking of patients in a medical facility is a priority in areas where there is significant patient throughput or turnover, such as emergency departments (EDs), operating rooms (ORs), outpatient offices, and imaging facilities. Traditionally, the assignment and tracking of patients has been performed manually, but now technology and systems exist to allow the building to automate many of these tasks.
Unfortunately, there is not one system today that can automatically perform the task of assigning patients to the next available room. Rather, the function involves a series of systems, integrations, technologies, and workflows including:
- ADT system (admission, discharge, transfer) to track a patient’s status and coordinate their care in a facility
- Acuity system to track a patient’s care needs and priority (the sicker the patient, the higher the acuity)
- Bed management system to track what rooms and beds are in use
- RTLS software (real time location system) to manage the location of tracking tags which can be placed on patients, staff and equipment
- RTLS hardware consisting of tracking tags on patient wristbands, staff ID badges and equipment
- Location sensing technology at the building level or room level to read and track the location of tracking tags and feed that information back to the RTLS software
- Business intelligence system to track and manage real time data from all the systems
Note that the question to use building or room level sensors comes up frequently and the answer depends on your business needs and planned workflows. At the building level, you would not need as many sensors which would be less expensive to implement. The accuracy of measurement at the building level is at best approximately 9 feet, which may not be sufficient to achieve your room-level goals. If the building level sensors are not accurate enough for your scenario, you’ll have to consider implementing room level sensors.
What’s the workflow for patient assignment in a typical environment?
Here is the workflow for how patient assignment and tracking would work in a typical ED environment:
- Patient is checked into ED after triage using the ADT system, assigned an acuity level indicating the intensity of the care required by the patient and provided with a tracking bracelet (RTLS tag)
- The ADT alerts the bed management system that a patient is waiting and what their acuity level is
- The RTLS system knows where each patient is, how long they’ve been waiting, and which rooms are occupied or vacant
- The bed management system uses an algorithm to identify who has been waiting the longest and balances that with acuity levels to ensure that patients are properly prioritized, then assigns the patient to a room
- The patient receives treatment; meanwhile, the system knows how long they were in the treatment room and which medical personnel interacted with them and for how long
- The ADT system is then updated with the patient’s status as to whether they were admitted to a primary care room, discharged, or transferred to another facility
What are the benefits of using technology to manage patient throughput?
Patient throughput is the lifeblood of any outpatient medical facility and any improvements to the speed of moving patients through your facility has many benefits:
Patients – Patient satisfaction will increase from reduced wait times and more efficient care.
Staff – Staff satisfaction and productivity will also increase as manual processes are reduced leading to spending more time on value-added services.
Operations – Automation will create staff efficiencies, improve patient throughput, increase staff and equipment utilization, and reduce the chance of errors – all of which will result in more profitable operations.
In addition, automation will enable health providers to capture and analyze operational data such as:
- Patient wait time
- Provider time with patient and overall visit length
- Room turnover time
- Exam room utilization
- Medical services performed
Knowing exactly what is happening in your facility, how long patients are in each stage and the sequence of their care can also help you pinpoint bottlenecks in your current workflow and lead to steps to increase efficiency.