Cutting Human Bottlenecks

By Ygal Bendavid and Harold Boeck

Before hospitals deploy an RFID solution to improve bed management, they must revise their patient-workflow process.

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Beds are scarce resources in hospitals. Often patients wait for hours in the emergency department or in post-op rooms for a bed, because hospital personnel don’t know when other patients have been discharged. There are a variety of RFID solutions designed to improve bed management by tracking patients and beds in real time. They can issue alerts when a patient is moved, a bed is free, and a room has been cleaned and readied for a new patient.

But these solutions are only as effective as a hospital’s patient-workflow process. People in several departments have to be available to respond to the system’s alerts and act in real time. Hospitals must address the following bottlenecks that impede patient workflow before they deploy an RFID bed-management solution.

Bottleneck 1: Doctors are responsible for discharging patients. But doctors are busy, so they typically schedule patient visits at fixed times. If patients aren’t ready to be released, they may end up staying longer than necessary, as they wait for the doctor’s next visit.

Bottleneck 2: When doctors discharge patients, nurses have to update patient-status reports so housekeeping teams can begin their work. But nurses are busy caring for patients, so the reports are left for later and patients are discharged by batch.

Bottleneck 3: An RFID bed-management solution can send an automatic alert to housekeepers and orderlies that a room is ready to be cleaned and prepared. This should accelerate room turnover. But in most hospitals, housekeeping works on shifts, and there’s not always someone available to clean the room and make the bed.

Bottleneck 4: Some patients can’t be moved within the hospital until mobile assets, such as a wheelchair or life-sustaining equipment, are available. Often, the people in charge of moving patients can’t locate these assets, and when they can, there aren’t necessarily workers available to deliver them. The availability of personnel and vehicles to transport patients to external locations, such as rehabilitation centers, is also a concern.

RFID providers have the technology and know-how to deploy an RFID-based real-time location system to track patients and beds. Converting actionable data into immediate intervention is more complex. Hospitals need to build flexibility into their patient-discharge workflow processes, by adjusting their organizational structure and reassigning roles and responsibilities. Doctors, for example, could visit patients based on discharge readiness rather than a fixed time. The housekeeping and transportation departments could establish teams that are available to react on the fly. Some hospitals have created discharge rooms to free up beds.

Hospitals that addressed workflow issues and then implemented a bed-management solution report improved patient care, and less stress and more satisfaction among hospital personnel.

Ygal Bendavid and Harold Boeck are professors in the school of management at the Université du Québec à Montréal, and members of RFID Academia‘s research board.