At Infinite Leap, we draw from the real-life experiences of our team members to help our healthcare clients fully leverage the power of real-time technologies. Today, I had the pleasure of chatting with David Kame, MBA, MHA, our Director of Client Success. Dave spent over a decade in various healthcare administration roles, including Practice Administrator at Cornerstone Healthcare, Director of Primary Care Services at Randolph Health, and Business Operations Manager at Novant Health. In these roles, he was responsible for improving efficiencies, increasing access, containing costs, and optimizing resources. I asked Dave to share with us what practice administrators should know about Real-Time Location Systems (RTLS).
Why should practice administrators consider using RTLS?
As a practice administrator, one of my main goals was to increase patient access to care. This goal can be achieved only with a multi-faceted approach, where seeing more patients in the clinic throughout the day plays a critical part of this approach. Therefore, if you want to increase patient throughput you need to have real-time visibility into the current flow of patients and their phases of care and see early signs of bottlenecks in patient flow. This is only possible by implementing a real-time location-enabled patient flow system. Another important role of any administrator is standardization of processes. RTLS provides the data to identify when standard operating procedures (SOPs) are not being consistently followed or need to be tweaked.
For example, if two medical assistants spend significantly different amounts of time in a particular phase of care, such as taking patient vital signs, it could indicate inconsistencies in standard operating procedures. Because RTLS-enabled patient flow collects this data, it can be analyzed for process improvement processes.
Can you explain how RTLS-based patient flow can assist in driving patient throughput?
Because an RTLS-based patient flow collects real-time information about patient status and location, you can see how long your patients are waiting to be registered, how long they are in the exam room waiting for a provider – basically, you gain visibility into the current status of each phase of patient care. This data can help you make better in-the-moment decisions, such as knowing what patient should be seen next, or which patient may become unhappy because they are waiting too long. Having visibility into patient flow in real time also enables you to use your resources better; for example, you can see which exam rooms can be prepped for the next patient.
How else can RTLS data be used to improve patient flow?
To me, in addition to in-the-moment visibility, the value of RTLS is in seeing trends in my clinic. For example, I can look at wait times – are they increasing or decreasing, do they differ by an hour in a day, or maybe by the service line? All this information is necessary to find the root causes of delays and how to fix them. As a clinic administrator, I also paid close attention to deviations between scheduling blocks and reality. The ability to access or build a heat map to illustrate bottlenecks is an incredibly helpful tool. Most of the time the outliers were caused by not following standard operating procedures, which could be fixed through a stand-up meeting or, if needed, additional staff training – but you need to know when and in what circumstances it happens. With RTLS data, you can drill down to this level of information.
What is the most important aspect of RTLS data?
What is so powerful about RTLS data is that it is automatically collected – which means it is timely, accurate, and unbiased. These three factors are critical in making any process improvements without added labor costs.
Can you elaborate on each of these factors?
The timeliness of data allows an operations leader to make changes instantly, to be proactive, not reactive, so we can address any issues before they become a reason for service recovery.
The accuracy of data – many of us have conducted process improvement exercises using stopwatches. However, we all know that people behave differently under the pressure of direct observation , and data generated through observation represents just a fraction of time. With RTLS, data is collected continuously. This is important not only to identify root causes but to validate process change decisions and to continue tweaking them. It allows for baselines to be set and objectively evaluated. Process improvement should never be a one-time exercise.
The unbiased nature of RTLS data is a critical factor in driving change, especially when it comes to the human factor. Have you ever had a conversation with a provider when their scheduled patient visits are getting off track? You probably heard that the room was not ready, or that CMA was talking with the patient too long. However, when you can present to a provider evidence-based information regarding their impact on patient flow delays, a potentially hostile conversation turns into a productive discussion. As scientists and data-driven individuals, they start asking questions – how can we improve the process, what can I do differently? I found it very stimulating – the sooner you can eliminate subjective conversations in your practice, the faster you can drive change, without hurt egos or an “it’s not my fault” mentality.
How about patient satisfaction? How can RTLS help?
The closer we can meet patient expectations regarding visit start time or the time they spend with the provider during the visit, the more satisfied patients are. By leveraging an RTLS-enabled patient flow solution you can make your patient experience more consistent and reproducible, and that adds value to patient visits. In addition, it also simplifies the work of nurses and doctors, which in turn impacts staff satisfaction, so it is a win-win situation.
Thank you for sharing your perspective on the value of real-time technologies on patient flow.
Any time! If there are any practice administrators who would like to discuss in more detail how to leverage an RTLS system to reduce wait times, increase access, and improve patient and staff satisfaction – I am here to help!