In a recent comment on Linked-In, author Mary Longe made the astute observation that progress in patient flow comes in waves.

This author knows what she’s talking about! Not only does she manage LinkedIn’s Patient Flow group, but she’s a senior healthcare consultant with the American Hospital Association’s Solution’s group and a former HIT company CEO.

She wrote:

“Some say that health care today is like fishing while riding a surfboard. No matter the wild ride, it seems that we are in the third wave of Patient Flow.”

The first wave, she said, included whiteboards, 20 or more phone calls “and a lot of patients ending up on units not meant for them.”

The next wave drew cues from industry as hospitals started talking about “throughput” and “obstacles” and “processes.”

“Processes improved and made way for new, efficient ways to push patients from the ED and pull them from discharge, and consultants created secret-sauce algorithms from retrospective data and information collected in bed-huddles to forecast flow, increase virtual capacity and improve the organization’s bottom line.”

Among the results, she notes, were the near-elimination of phone calls and bed huddles, and the recognition that overcrowding is not just an ED problem but one that extends through the hospital enterprise and into the community. Words like “visibility” and “workflow automation” and “efficiency” entered the healthcare lexicon.

Among the earmarks of “The Third Wave,” she says, are partnerships, vendors with “skin in the game,” and front line staff involved in the buying process of enabling technologies.

Here at TeleTracking, we believe her “waves” analogy is perfect. That’s because, in part, we started those waves as the company that created automated patient flow.

We’ve always included front line employees in the re-design of workflow and selection of enabling technology because they know better than anyone else which steps in a given process can be eliminated or replaced with technology. We partner with our clients because we don’t succeed if they don’t succeed, and they are the greatest source of developmental ideas. And finally, we have proof of our successes and clients who are more than willing to testify to it.

The upcoming “Third Wave,” as we envision it, will go beyond patient flow to operational management. It will involve automating as many of the physical functions of the hospital as possible and monitoring them in real time to increase efficiency in the delivery of care.

This has to be done, considering the job cutbacks which are spreading through healthcare at precisely the same time a “wave” of Baby Boomers and newly insured Americans will start knocking on hospital doors.

By optimizing all of the underlying systems which govern care delivery, operational management coverts one of healthcare’s biggest sources of waste – TIME – into one of its biggest sources of savings and revenue.

Peak operational performance through automation and process redesign takes the time lag out of daily hospital operations. This means more people can be seen, more operations can be performed, more patients can be transferred from other hospitals for the care they need.

The enabling technology for this operational platform is TeleTracking® Real-Time Location System (RTLS). Its real-time tracking and monitoring, combined with other capacity management automation, provides instant management closer to the bedside. Rather than requiring weeks to analyze performance data, corrective action can be taken in moments to keep things running smoothly.

The Institute of Medicine says that “higher quality care at lower cost will require a commitment to transform the U.S. health system into a learning system that continuously improves by systematically capturing and broadly disseminating lessons from every care experience and new discoveries.

We agree. And we’re working on it now.


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