Health informatics (HI) isn’t the screwdriver, it’s the whole toolbox. In other words, it’s not one tool, but a strategy that uses many tools that can help fix many problems. When we talk about making healthcare more efficient using health informatics, one of the main concerns is patient wait times. Master of Science in Health Informatics students learn the skills and strategies necessary to begin to implement systems that can reduce long wait times for patients. Across the country, many strategies are being tested, and several of them are showing promise.
Just in Time
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University are taking a page out of an automaker’s book in order to reduce patient wait times. The “Just-In-Time” training and inventory process has been used by Toyota in Japan in an attempt to stem waste and reduce bottlenecking.
After realizing that a significant amount of time was wasted in the practice of having residents-in-training review records and see patients on the same day, the Johns Hopkins team began having residents preview patient records the day before their appointments.
Just-In-Time methodology exploits the health informatics concept that processes and procedures can be streamlined and sped up if the right resources are available. After identifying the attending physician’s time and availability as the source of the bottleneck, the Johns Hopkins team looked for ways to reduce the attending physician’s workload.
After the new method was implemented, wait times were reduced significantly and residents reported they were more confident interacting with patients due to the advanced preparation.
One of the most troubling places to have to wait in line is a hospital emergency room. The physicians and staff at Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento agree and sought to solve the problem through the use of Lean methodology (creating more value with fewer resources) for performance improvement. Their goal was to reduce emergency room wait times to one hour or less .
Increased patient volume and space constraints had increased wait times in recent years. Dr. Karen Murell of Kaiser Permanente described how her organization began to decrease wait times: “You look at every process and then create a culture. You look at everything with a critical eye to make it better for patients and easier for providers.”
Dr. Morrell said the use of open data and metrics helped to decrease patients’ length of stay in the emergency department by 10 percent.
Executives from two Ontario hospitals, Grand River Hospital and Chatham-Kent Health Alliance, got together to explore how a lack of staff communication and collaboration have led to longer emergency room wait times. Data showed that 70% of treatment delays and sentinel events in the hospital are caused by communication breakdowns. They realized that better, faster communication is essential to solving these problems.
Staff at the two hospitals found that by using mobile devices to communicate patients’ personal health information, they could speed up processes. They found BlackBerry phones could be used to transmit the information in a secure manner. Kathleen Lavoie, Chief Information Management Officer and Chief Privacy Officer at Grand River Hospital says, “BlackBerry has the only tool I’ve found that will provide a healthcare setting with an end-to-end secure mobile solution, meaning it protects data in transit and data at rest .”
By using BlackBerrys alongside Oculys Health Informatics tools, the team was able to improve “visibility into how patients flow through the system, which helps them predict and optimize the flow and eliminate bottlenecks.” The Chatham-Kent emergency department has seen patient wait times decrease by up to 67% .
A degree in health informatics can give you the tools you need to be a part of the solution to problems like long wait times in hospitals. Collaboration and thinking outside the box has helped hospital staffs figure out ways to reduce wait times and help make health systems more efficient.