Hospital Throughput to Improve Patient Flow
Patient Logistics

6 Ways to Boost Hospital Throughput to Improve Patient Flow

February 13, 2023
Natalie Evenson, MSN, BSN, RN, SANE-A

The COVID-19 pandemic put an immense amount of pressure on the healthcare system in the United States and brought the question of safe, efficient patient movement to the forefront. In this article, we define what hospital throughput is, the factors that affect patient flow, and 6 ways to make improvements that will fulfill the requirements of both patient and provider.

In addition to reduced wait times, better quality care, and higher patient satisfaction, hospitals who invest in improving patient throughput and flow report a beneficial financial impact. By identifying and implementing effective strategies, care teams can streamline patient throughput from admission to discharge while ensuring patient safety and delivering high-quality care.

What is Hospital Throughput and Patient Flow?

Hospital throughput[1] is the process of moving patients through the hospital system from admission to discharge. Evaluating hospital throughput determines how efficiently and effectively patients move through the system and the factors that enhance or inhibit patient flow.

Patient flow[2] is the movement of patients through a facility, with a focus on the specific resources and systems involved. Hospital throughput and patient flow go hand in hand, and hospitals can maximize patient flow by improving throughput.

What Factors Affect Patient Flow?

  • Staffing: Inadequate staffing will slow the evaluation, treatment, movement, and discharging of patients at every step of the care journey.
  • Communication: Poor communication can cause misunderstandings and errors, leading to poor patient outcomes. The patient handoff process is a common area in which breakdowns in communication can result in delays or mistakes.
  • Inefficient systems: Healthcare has many time-consuming and laborious processes and procedures. When clinical staff spend extra time on administrative paperwork, this takes valuable time away from providing patient care at the bedside.
  • Layout and organization: Poor layout and organization can impede patient flow. When staff must spend extra time walking long distances from patient care areas to supply rooms, it slows efficiency.
  • Delays in care: Any factor that delays care will impede patient flow. For example, a nurse who cannot access a medication dose and has to call the pharmacy may have to make the phone call, wait on hold, and be transferred to speak to the correct person. This process is time-consuming and delays the patient from receiving the necessary treatment.

6 Ways to Improve Hospital Throughput

We've identified potential patient-flow bottlenecks. Here are some strategies to improve hospital throughput:

1. Optimize Staff

Staffing shortages are at an all-time high in the United States [3]. Nurses working in areas such as the Emergency Department, PACU, and procedural departments often perform tasks that non-clinical staff could complete, such as transporting patients to other areas of the hospital, cleaning and stocking rooms, and making beds. Hiring more certified nursing assistants, transporters, and housekeeping staff in areas with high patient turnover allows nurses to focus on clinical tasks like charting and providing direct patient care.

2. Improve Communication

Good communication is essential to patient care, especially during the care handoff process. Misunderstandings, errors, or omissions about a patient can occur without clear communication. Technological solutions, such as a platform like VectorCare, create streamlined, efficient, and transparent networks that that facilitate communication for nursing and non-nursing staff and decrease opportunities for errors, which can lead to poor patient outcomes.

3. Enhance Efficiency

Nurses, social workers, and case managers are often responsible for arranging patient transportation from the Emergency Department to another facility. It is common to spend over 45 minutes[4] making phone calls, filling out and faxing paperwork, looking up insurance coverage, and coordinating transportation. With VectorCare this is reduced to under 5 minutes. Hospital staff make no calls, instead using the integrated VectorCare platform to send out dozens of requests simultaneously to approved, in-network ambulance providers in just one click. This streamlined process saves significant time, allowing staff to focus on what's important: patient care.  

4. Prioritize Organization

Evaluating a hospital's layout ensures high-use supplies and equipment are readily available in convenient locations, which increases efficiency. For example, many procedural and patient care areas have bedside supply carts stocked with high-use items such as IV supplies and lab tubes. Equipment like IV pumps and blanket warmers should be located in central locations to save time and decrease unnecessary trips to supply rooms.

5. Enhance The Work Environment

Implementing a positive and supportive work environment[5] increases productivity. Now more than ever, employers who invest in employees' health, well-being, and wellness see increased staff morale and happier, more productive employees. Employers can promote a culture of teamwork, support, and healthy lifestyles through employee wellness programs, team-building activities, and employee assistance programs that promote mental and emotional health.

6. Update Technology

Utilizing HIPAA-compliant technology is an effective time-saving tool for expediting patient flow. Some electronic medical record systems (EMR) allow healthcare providers to communicate via secure messaging systems, which would allow a nurse, for example, to directly message the pharmacy or a provider with a non-urgent message about their patient. Rather than making multiple calls, waiting on hold, transferring, and taking nurses away from providing patient care, this method can prevent delays  and frustration.

Maximizing resources and implementing more efficient systems will positively impact patient throughput and flow, which in turn enhances efficiency and elevates patient and provider satisfaction while maintaining cost-effectiveness. Learn how VectorCare's network can drive operational efficiency here.

1. "Hospital Patient Flow Best Practices", Folio3 Digital Health, 11 November 2021.

2. "What is patient flow?" NEJM Catalyst, 1 January 2018.

3. "Nursing Shortage", National Library of Medicine, by Lisa M. Haddad, Pavan Annamaraju, and Tammy J. Toney-Butler, 13 February 2023.

4. "The Healthy Health Care Workplace: a Competitive Advantage", SpringerLink, 31 August 2018.

5. "How Does VectorCare's Network Drive Operational Efficiency?", VectorCare Journal, by Josh Yiangou, 5 December 5 2022