Working on Workflow - Improving Office Efficiency

Working on Workflow - Improving Office Efficiency

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There are many reasons why a healthcare organization should embark on a workflow analysis project. One of the primary driving forces may be when inefficiencies creep in, or perhaps the organization is in the process of implementing a new EHR system or other new technology. Most practices do not have internal talent with experience in workflow analysis and documentation, so it typically makes more sense for a technology integrator such as CoreTech Revolution or another third party resource conduct the analysis. In this article, we will address what workflow involves, the benefits and reasons for conducting a workflow analysis, as well as things to consider during the analysis process.

What is workflow?

Workflow refers to the group of tasks or processes which take place in a hospital or clinical practice in order to serve a patient. Clinical workflows are extremely complex, and they can vary in the way they function and the type of patients served. Part of workflow analysis involves identifying and documenting these processes and mapping or charting the flow and interactivity. Using the information gleaned from the workflow analysis, the team can identify inefficiencies and bottlenecks in order to rearrange processes for greater efficiencies and cost-savings. This process redesign is also important during the integration of new tools and technologies into an existing workflow.

Benefits of Workflow Analysis

Workflow analysis, along with process mapping and redesign, can greatly benefit both the patient and the practice. Some of the ways that an improved workflow can enhance a practice include:

  • Boosts physician and staff productivity
  • Enhances effective communication
  • Reduces manual and duplicate tasks
  • Improves patient flow
  • Centralizes resources and services
  • Reduces errors
  • Decreases time on paperwork and administration
  • Increases physician time spent serving patients
  • Improves patient care and overall satisfaction

How to Document Workflow

Documenting and analyzing your workflow can be a lengthy process. It’s important for every member of your team to get involved in this process at some point during the analysis, in order to truly understand the information and communication flow, as well as to address the bottlenecks and uncover solutions. In order to map out a healthcare organization’s current workflow, some of the key areas to document include:

  • Patient visit and touch points
    • Appointment setting
    • Check-in
    • New patient workup
    • Processing information from outside providers
    • In-office interactions with physician and staff
    • Testing and lab work
    • Prescription ordering or renewals
    • Referrals (incoming and outgoing)
    • Check-out and follow-up appointments
    • Billing and insurance
  • Information flow and variations
    • Phone calls
    • Faxes
    • Secure messaging
    • Processing external provider information (labs, referrals)
    • Updating EHR or patient portal
  • Resources used and availability
    • Support staff available
    • Phone, fax systems
    • Computers
    • Filing system, storage and organization
    • Internet and secure messaging and accessibility
    • Medical devices
    • Vendor systems (EHR, HIE, etc.)
    • Patient portal

For each step in a task, your analysis team should identify who is involved in performing the task, and what equipment or steps they use in the process. Is the task truly necessary to the organization? Are there certain rules or must the steps be conducted in a logical order? What equipment or technology must be used for the task? What factors may influence how efficiently or the manner in which the task is completed? All variations for the processes must be mapped out in order to truly visualize an information and communication workflow within the organization. This will help identify areas of inefficiency, as well as where the workflow could improve with the help of resources such as technology or staff augmentation.

Leveraging Workflow Data

Once the analysis team has fully documented each area of the organization’s workflow, and has mapped and classified each process and procedure, they can get to the root cause of any waste, constraints, duplication or other inefficiencies. Part of this process involves coming up with solutions for improving any bottlenecks in the process. These solutions may involve simply re-organizing tasks and processes to improve the workflow, such as identifying which administrative team members should handle a particular task, or relocating equipment to a central location for greater accessibility. Perhaps the team identifies additional training or support that could enhance productivity and improve workflow. With the help of all team members, the organization can uncover potential solutions to improve workflow for all involved.

Other workflow efficiencies could be gained by the use of technology. For example, a faster internet connection or a different software program may improve workflow. Installing a patient portal or adopting an EHR solution may automate some of the administrative tasks involved with patient communication and documentation. Secure messaging may improve patient information flow, resulting in an increase in productivity and fewer patient touch points. When an organization is considering implementing a new IT system, having a clearly documented workflow can help the company visualize where the technology will fix into existing workflow, and will make for a smoother implementation process.

With the right technology partner in place to assist with workflow analysis and process mapping, healthcare institutions can work more efficiently and reduce costs. Creating workflow efficiencies while integrating new solutions can improve communication between staff members and ultimately creates a better work environment, which can lead to increased staff and patient satisfaction.