How can we make patient flow effective and more efficient for the NHS?

Bed availability and NHS waiting times continue to hit headlines. Winter pressures have evolved into a year-round headache, with little chance for busy hospitals to recover during the spring and summer months. Combined with a growing elective backlog of more than 7 million people waiting for treatment the drive to maximise capacity and efficiency, whilst ensuring patients are treated in the right place and discharged safely, is greater than ever.

These are some of the challenges that are leading more and more healthcare providers, and integrated care systems, to turn to technology to help modernise and improve patient flow across hospitals and into the community.

The importance of effective flow

Patient flow is so important that it has become everyone’s responsibility. Anyone working across the multi-disciplinary environment, within and beyond the hospital, has a role to play in ensuring patients move forward in their care journey safely, appropriately and as efficiently as possible – and with the needs and wishes of the patient and their family respected.

Effective flow can help to minimise deconditioning and other risks associated with being in hospital longer than is necessary while ensuring patients are discharged with the best plan to aid their recuperation. Prior to discharge, flow plays an important role in ensuring patients receive the most appropriate care in the hospital.

Patients who are not allocated the right bed can have longer lengths of stay and other complications and create challenges for care teams. For example, a stroke patient who has been admitted to hospital is likely to have a much better prognosis if they are treated on a stroke ward – and effective flow management can help to ensure that happens and identify when outliers occur.

Flow systems also support effective discharge planning and ensure that patients aren’t kept in hospital unnecessarily when something hasn’t been actioned. Unnecessary discharge delays can lead to knock-on effects in other parts of the hospital and the broader healthcare system. For example, it might be that patients in the busy emergency department are waiting to move to the ward.

Implementing flow technology

Patient flow functionality continues to evolve, moving away from manual processes associated with early flow systems, to modern technologies that automate processes using innovations such as clinical decision support and virtual care to support effective workflow and planning. But Flow technology is about more than efficiencies in the acute hospital.

Miya Flow – Alcidion’s patient flow management solution – provides bespoke dashboards, also known as journey boards, that consolidate real-time pertinent information, so that different clinical specialties and departments can see at-a-glance all the patients in their care. This provides critical information to those running hospital operations on the current state of the hospital and how flow can be better managed. It also provides regions and Integrated Care Systems the ability to manage flow across a region, incorporating other settings such as social care, ambulances and community.

Alcidion is working with community trusts to ensure effective patient and client flow across multiple and geographically dispersed community sites, to help to enhance rehabilitation processes and to move away from a situation where staff populate isolated systems and spreadsheets. Command and control functionality within Miya Flow provides a tool for integrated care systems to plan resources, flow and discharge processes across their footprint.

Flow technology is also becoming integral to digital strategy – integrating and even providing an orchestration layer for e-noting, electronic e-observations, electronic patient records and an array of other systems. In some instances, hospitals that work with Alcidion are exploring flow as the first stepping stone of wider digital transformation programmes, and have been looking to Miya Flow as the system that clinical teams use to context launch into other applications, avoiding the need to continually log-in and out of dozens of systems. This is helping to add clinical value to the flow process, as it means that clinical teams can fulfil their flow responsibilities, make informed decisions more easily and save valuable time.

Benefits of efficient flow processes

Patient Flow technology aids healthcare professionals in freeing up time and resources for more meaningful tasks. One of our NHS customers recently observed that Bed Managers were previously spending more than 80 out of every 168 hour week phoning wards to find availability and to update patient status. And for each those calls that nurses on the ward spent time answering, that time is now being saved and reinvested into clinical care. Hospitals are also automating the capture of sit-rep data required on a daily basis nationally, freeing up senior clinicians who would otherwise capture that information.

As the NHS looks to tackle the national backlog, capabilities like this can provide an important tool to help get patients treatment sooner, to optimise regional capacity, and to potentially deliver more accessible and equitable care in a location that could be more appropriate for that patient.

Technology has the potential to be transformative when it comes to patient flow. But making flow technology really successful rests on technology providers being responsive to the priorities of the organisations deploying it, and to the needs of users. Alcidion is committed to that collaborative approach.

Katy Cain is the Chief Nursing Information Officer at Alcidion. 

This article originally appeared on on 8 March 2023