Improved Patient Flow in Hospitals: How to Break Through the Bottlenecks

October 1, 2014

by Sandra Marchetti

Sandra MarchettiBackups and delays are a common, but always unwelcome, part of the health care process. Patient flow problems are a source of anxiety and long waits for patients, as well as frustration and inefficiency for providers.

According to the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, many U.S. hospitals have problems with achieving optimal patient flow in intensive care units, emergency departments, operating rooms, and post-care areas. Because these are noninterchangeable resources, they have a tendency to bottleneck.

The problem is particularly acute in emergency departments, where crowding and poor patient flow compromise the quality of care, introduce opportunities for error, and result in significant lost revenue for hospitals.

In 2007, the most recent year for which data are available, 1.9 million people—representing 2 percent of all ED visits—left the ED before being seen. This was typically because of long wait times, according to Improving Patient Flow and Reducing Emergency Department Crowding, a report released in 2011 by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

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