Managing Patient Flow in a Recovery Setting

Article first published on Cambio’s Linkedin site 10th April 2021

Integrated patient flow management will prepare us for a post-pandemic landscape

Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic has been the greatest challenge of our generation. Preparing for a future beyond it will be the next.

In dealing with the coronavirus fallout, healthcare systems all over the world underwent a technological paradigm shift. Many saw the benefits of using digitally integrated tools to manage hospital admissions, discharge thresholds, and the entire patient journey. Data-driven patient flow tools became a necessity for hospitals that over-extended their resources to cater to COVID-19 patients.

As world health look towards recovery, it will need tools that allow organisations to predict healthcare staff capacity, adapt to new care protocols and define intelligent best practices for post-pandemic health provision. In the not so distant future, healthcare leaders must evaluate and advise on the changes that are needed to optimise patient care.

In this setting, digitised tools, particularly those that can be implemented in patient flow management, will inevitably be key drivers for success. Especially, tools like Cambio’s Patient Flow Manager (PFM) solution, will help hospitals of the future navigate patient flow.

COVID-19: Pre-empting the Need for Digitised Patient Flow Management

The pandemic demanded an extraordinary exertion of effort and agility in managing its fallout. Due to increased pressure on health systems, many institutions had to alter normal operations to cope with rising COVID-19 admissions. However, their ability to cope with increased demand for health services resulted also degraded care provision across multiple disease pathways. This consequently bore heavily on hospital capacity to treat patients in a safe and timely fashion.

In response to this unprecedented challenge, preserving overwhelmed health systems during the crisis required the rapid development of containment and workflow planning. Governments and public health systems initially attempted to apply traditional techniques and lean practices to optimise patient flow.

However, few of these older techniques proved effective in maximising patient flow in the context of our current health climate’s needs. A study from the University of Oxford indicates as much, indicating that the pandemic highlighted the ‘ineffective balance of supply and demand within the system’. The report analyses the current barriers the NHS faces in improving patient flow, especially the way some Trusts manage ‘supply’, ‘demand’ and ‘resource provision’:

‘The effect of current poor resource management on patient flow within the hospital is well known. Conceptually, high patient flow can be achieved by the effective balance of supply and demand within the system. […] However, studies of waiting lists have long shown that increasing supply, in fact, leads to a proportional stimulation of demand, highlighting the inadequacies of using a relative need for services solely for the basis of resource provision’

Under normal circumstances, simply increasing supply without much digital aid could satiate demand. However, the pandemic exposed underlying bottlenecks in this system, causing inefficient optimisation of capacity. Further investigations described in the Oxford report suggest that traditional methods could not deliver an adequate level of care in circumstances where an overwhelming influx of patients incapacitated staff.

As such, health systems realised the need to turn to solutions that were not only economically desirable, but practically effective.

Data-Driven Tools: The Best Defence Against the Pandemic

The most important lesson that health leaders have learned is the value of digitised tools in managing patient flow.

Open access to business intelligence data in hospitals allowed healthcare staff to drive critical decisions, from short -term emergency responses to long-term recovery planning. Institutions with data-driven cultures were visibly the most successful in accessing, delineating and sharing knowledge regarding patient flow best practices. As such, they navigated patient surges and resource strains with fewer obstacles.

Because of the pandemic, health resource strain became an urgent concern in the early months of COVID-19. Geographies with high transmission rates found that they exhausted hospital bed space, ventilators, PPE and staffing. These concerns heightened the need for accurate, highly visible and localised data-informed capacity and flow planning.

In an editorial published in the Emergency Medicine Journal, representatives from Addenbrooke’s Hospital Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (Addenbrooke’s) make a compelling case for using digitised patient flow tools in their care infrastructure. They expound on how data-driven patient flow managers helped the Trust to overcome ‘insoluble problems’ and ultimately ‘improved’ ‘inpatient capacity’ ‘dramatically’:

‘Inpatient capacity improved dramatically, so that many hospitals regularly had extraordinarily better bed capacity states. […] This illustrated that delayed transfers of care and the resulting exit block is not an insoluble problem and can be fixed where there is a political, financial, managerial and clinical will. Patient flow improved, and many were less crowded as a result’

Cambio PFM: A Patient Flow Benchmark for Recovery Success

Tools like Cambio’s PFM were some which allowed for healthcare institutions to not only forecast operational, clinical and patient population health data but also to predict patient surges and real-time demand on resources. Through using such tools, hospitals were given much-needed foresight to plan, design, and mitigate data-driven incentives that ultimately saved more patient lives.

Today, next-generation solutions, like Cambio PFM, are important tools utilised in many healthcare settings by clinicians, nurses and hospital intelligence staff in the UK. They depend on Cambio PFM to ‘ visualise and track’ the progress patients were making,  from referral to inpatient stay and then back to community’. In preparing for post-pandemic recovery, tools that offer heightened visibility over the entire patient journey will prove their value. As health systems consider new ways to improve patient flow efficiency, digital management tools will build more sustainable care frameworks.

To be truly transformative, health systems need to become the digital front door for patients seeking medical access. They need to anticipate bed limitations, which will continue to be felt when the NHS recommences its normal elective surgery pipeline. Removing artificial variability digitised patient flow managers will coordinate scheduled admissions, thus optimising patient placement ahead of procedures.

Additionally, digitised patient flow tools will allow hospitals to overcome their own unique challenges and restraints by offering real-time recommendations. Cambio PFM offers bespoke monitoring capacities, allowing hospital staff to anticipate resource deficits before they materialise. By understanding and acting on resource data at a granular and immediate level, hospitals can better coordinate their responses to recovery needs.

Looking Towards Better Patient Flow Capacity Building

The most critical issue that hospitals will soon face is the timely placement of patients in appropriate levels of care beyond a pandemic setting. They will need to understand how to organise bed capacity correctly in order to improve clinical workload and the entire patient experience. In order to build better capabilities, Cambio PFM and other like solutions will ensure that hospitals develop sustainable best practices by leveraging more visible data.

With the rollout of three COVID-19 vaccines, healthcare systems worldwide are facing a herculean task in ensuring everyone is immunised. Despite the portents of a dangerous variant and the possibility of further resource deficit, healthcare organisation will get immediate benefit from adopting digitised tools.

The increased use of data-driven solutions for patient flow management has undoubtedly permitted hospitals to succeed in the face of these challenges. Cambio’s Patient Flow Manager will continue to provide hospital trusts with the ability to cater directly to their needs.

As we look forward, we will need to depend on solutions like the Cambio PFM to increase data and operational visibility. In adopting these frameworks, healthcare leaders will be able to make smarter, more informed decisions that ultimately lead to improved patient outcomes. 

Get in touch with the Cambio Healthcare Systems UK team today, to help your teams gain greater insights throughout the entire patient journey.