COVID-19 served as a brutal reminder that streamlining patient transitions from one care setting to another is critical – and even more so when hospital beds are at a premium. Even with less revenue flowing in, hospitals were still expected to quickly adapt as rising infections caused unexpected surges in hospitalizations. Better care coordination improves the patient experience and significantly lowers hospitals’ costs by reducing the length of stay. In fact, one healthcare organization estimated that by decreasing the length of stay by 25% through improved patient care transitions, it could free up 32 additional beds per day and save $5.75 million in revenue.
In the post-COVID-19 world, ensuring better patient transitions will remain a priority. This emphasis will be particularly true as hospitals work through the 24-plus months’ worth of backlogs caused by postponed elective surgeries during the pandemic. That’s why many hospitals are turning to technology to move patients through the healthcare system faster and more efficiently.
Enabling Faster Diagnosis and Treatment
Technology can help healthcare team members process and review critical lab results faster. For instance, mobile printers in patient rooms allow clinicians to collect, label and record specimens at the bedside, reducing errors and allowing for faster lab test ordering and processing. Hospitals can even compare the timestamps printed on bedside-generated labels with the diagnostic test orders’ timestamps to monitor for processing bottlenecks.
When the lab test is complete, care team members are immediately alerted via their mobile devices – allowing for a speedier review of results and a faster recommended treatment plan. Decreasing the time that clinicians take to review laboratory tests can help expedite care actions – such as critical treatments – which in turn can help improve patient outcomes and reduce the length of stay.
Boosting Bed Turnover
Technology can also help enable faster patient discharge. When a patient is discharged, it often takes hours before the room or bed is made ready for the next patient. Many healthcare organizations are finding that location technology is invaluable in optimizing room/bed availability. Location technology allows hospitals to better monitor their assets – ranging from inventory to patients – using unique radio frequency identification (RFID) or Bluetooth Low Energy identification tags. These tags communicate with wireless readers, which track the location of an item or a person throughout the facility.
Using this technology, tagged wheelchairs can be located immediately when a patient is cleared and ready for discharge. While this might not sound like a significant efficiency gain, nurses spend as many as 40 hours each month searching for equipment. For a 500-person nursing staff, that’s up to 20,000 hours in wasted time every month. In fact, delays in finding available IV pumps, operating room gurneys or wheelchairs can delay everything from medication administration and operating room (OR) transfers to patient discharges.
Once a discharged patient has left the room, the housekeeping staff can be notified via their mobile devices that the room is available for cleaning – either automatically using the location technology system or through an alert from the nursing staff.
Optimizing Operating Room Efficiency
Location technology is also valuable for alerting staff the moment a patient is wheeled in and out of the OR. Tracking surgery patients allows hospitals to precisely monitor how long each procedure takes, enabling more efficient OR scheduling. The ability to efficiently schedule surgical procedures is critical from both a cost and a patient care perspective, given that delays in emergency surgery can increase the length of stay by 2.6 days and increase mortality rates by a shocking 53%.
One often-overlooked way to reduce the average length of a hospital stay is by using technology solutions that are specifically designed to reduce the spread of infections.
Mobile devices such as clinical smartphones and barcode scanners made with medical-grade plastics or UV-resistant housings can endure frequent cleanings and withstand constant exposure to disinfecting agents. In addition, devices designed with covered screw holes and fewer seams give bacteria fewer places to hide.
Improving Efficiency Leads to Better Patient Care
In the United States, extended patient stays cost the healthcare system $20 billion annually. The good news is that location technology and mobile devices help hospitals track the patient journey throughout the treatment process to improve patient care and reduce the length of stay. The data hospitals gather from these mobility and location technology solutions can tell them exactly how long it takes to move a patient from the emergency room to inpatient admission, the length of time between inpatient admission and discharge, how long it takes to get surgical patients through the OR, and even how fast lab tests are processed.
Healthcare organizations can then use these insights to optimize clinicians’ workflows and patient flow to help reduce costs and improve the patient experience.
About Rikki Jennings
Rikki Jennings, BSN, RN, CPN is currently the Chief Nursing Informatics Officer (CNIO) at Zebra Technologies where she is responsible for combining her knowledge of patient care, informatics concepts, and change management to effectively address the information and knowledge needs of healthcare professionals and patients to promote safe, effective, and efficient use of IT in clinical settings. She also serves as the strategic liaison for health IT efforts representing nursing and clinician needs. Early in her nursing career, Rikki recognized a disconnect between purchased technologies and the understanding of their intended value at the bedside by her fellow clinicians and pursued Nursing Informatics. She is passionate about the utilization of technology to support safer, more effective care models. Over the past several years, her work in the healthcare IT industry has provided her an in-depth knowledge of the workflows and utilization of clinical technologies including clinical communication systems, bedside technology solutions, and data analytics tools in hospitals across the country.