Open the front door to patient access: how AI helps direct inpatient flow to unlock capacity
The best way health systems can serve their surrounding communities is to provide consistent and timely access to care, for every patient who needs it. This not only improves patient outcomes, but drives higher revenue and keeps costs low.
In the wake of the pandemic, hospitals in all settings have seen an influx of patients needing care access. This rush of higher patient demand, combined with capacity bottlenecks and unforeseen barriers, has made offering access a constant challenge. The New England Journal of Medicine stated in an April 2023 commentary “that the greatest risk to hospital safety and health care equity is the unprecedented capacity crisis faced in acute hospital care” and describes how hospitals and emergency departments nationwide are missing diagnoses or treatments due to overcrowding.
Health systems in urban centers or other population-dense areas must find ways to accommodate a higher number of patients using their existing capacity, and also be ready to receive transfer patients from community settings. Those community or rural hospitals, often the only point of care in a large geography, also have a critical responsibility to maintain available capacity for patients.
The need to open patient access is universal and urgent. Doing so begins with optimizing the flow through inpatient areas, which because of their unique qualities are the foundation to creating patient access.
Why inpatient flow keeps the “front door” to the health system open
There are two reasons maintaining open staffed inpatient beds, through efficient patient flow, is essential to maintaining access to the hospital overall.
First, beds are the only assets in the hospital that do not operate on schedules. While other care assets like operating rooms (ORs) and infusion chairs must be prepared for add-on patients, the scheduling of elective cases and appointments makes these assets’ future utilization at least somewhat predictable. The need for beds, however, is determined by flow from other areas of the hospital as well as the arrival of new patients, so some beds must always remain open to fulfill this need. This leads to the second reason. Because areas like the OR and the emergency department must move patients to inpatient units when their treatment is finished, beds must be always available to prevent bottlenecks in those other areas.
To read on about why AI-driven inpatient flow solutions are essential to maintaining open, staffed beds and hospital access, visit Becker’s Hospital Review.