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Navigating for Health: Patient Flow in Hospitals

Patient Flow

Patient flow is the movement of people within a healthcare facility. As one of the most crucial parts of hospital design, a successful patient flow ensures that the hospital can provide the right care at the right time while minimizing any potential risk of transmission of diseases. Especially following the century-shaping COVID-19 pandemic, the ways people enter hospitals, navigate within them, and leave have never been a more vital debate about public health.

Through strategies like increasing capacity, embracing digitization, and minimizing touch, hundreds of hospitals around the world have been responding to the rapidly-changing healthcare needs. However, the lack of an efficient crowd and patient flow management can dampen all these other efforts.

The Need for a New Approach in Patient Flow Management

Patient flow management is a scientific discipline often studied and executed by medical design experts or architects who specialize in healthcare facilities. Hospitals are typically divided into four areas depending on their functions: Sterile, semi-clean, common, and unsterile. Interlocking airlock doors unidirectionally separate these areas to manage the flow of patients, as well as the air.

The patients who visit a hospital can be broadly divided into two categories: Those with an acute condition that requires immediate attention, and those who use the healthcare services to manage chronic conditions — even though some patients might belong to both groups. While the patients in the latter group might not need immediate attention, especially those with chronic illnesses like cancer, diabetes, or heart diseases are often more vulnerable to hospital-acquired infections (HAIs). Hence, successful patient flow management must take the manifold different needs into consideration with its design.

How Are New Technologies Optimizing Patient Flow?

“Achieving hospital-wide patient flow, and ultimately improving outcomes and the experience of care for patients, requires an appreciation of the hospital as an interconnected, interdependent system of care,” write the authors of a report published by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. An optimal flow of the patients also requires strong leadership and communication within the healthcare facilities.

However, technological solutions to help hospitals to achieve optimal patient flow is a market growing steadily. These technological tools help to track the movement of patients, information, or the flow of equipment between organizations.

Airports to Inspire Patient Flow in Hospitals

Patient Flow

In the near future, patients might expect to see hospitals’ patient flow to increasingly resemble airports, where passenger flow is a fundamental part of security.

Like airports, the hospitals will have to keep tapping into data to optimize the flow of patients. Some advanced technologies that future-forward airports are using such as biometric screening or Bluetooth-enabled wayfinding technologies are already spreading into hospitals.

A Digital Reform of Entrances

Adjusting to the ongoing health needs, many hospitals and healthcare systems took to upgrading their doors and entrance systems, as well as digitizing them altogether. For instance, the United Kingdom National Health Service (NHS) recently widened hospital doors to optimize patient flow.

“Digital tools are now available and can provide a real-time, up to date view of where every single patient is located, together with their healthcare status,” says Sir Jonathan Michael, an independent healthcare consultant. “Now is the time to increase the momentum in the use of healthcare technology.”

In many cases, smart access solutions can also assist in collecting data, separating patients with different needs, limiting the number of people entering the facility, and admit the urgent cases faster.

The specifications and needs of each healthcare facility are unique. Hence, optimizing patient flow to maximize the public healthcare outcomes is a complex decision that requires multiple stakeholders to collaborate.

However, in an environment where every second can save lives, there’s no doubt hospital patient flow is a conversation that will get increasingly more audible in healthcare communities.

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