Emergency Department Capacity Management Best Practices

These eight tips for better capacity management in healthcare show your independent ED needs more than emergency room bed management best practices to function efficiently.

Capacity Management Practices

Emergency department capacity management best practices help you shorten patient stays, better allocate resources, and boost patient satisfaction scores.

So to treat more patients in your ED and manage sustained growth — without raising costs for staff and supplies — you must optimize your group’s efficiency. 

The sooner your patients are evaluated and triaged for treatment, the faster you’ll free up beds for new patients. And that means expanding your ED’s bottom line without sacrificing quality or spending more.

Capacity management in healthcare is all about working smarter.

5 Emergency Department Capacity Management Best Practices

Follow these proven strategies for greater efficiency:


#1. Start With An Accurate Assessment


Before you attempt strategies to improve operations in your ED, you have to know where it currently stands.

Analytical tools for independent EM groups will collect data to help you understand more about your typical peak volumes and capacity shortages. Then you’ll know how to allocate your resources accordingly.

Just as you must prepare for summertime in the ED, your capacity should meet hourly, daily, weekly, and seasonal variations in demand too.

Learn from the data and you’ll eliminate bottlenecks on the patient pathway from admission to discharge.


#2. Establish Different Paths for Each Type of Patient


Creating predetermined paths for specific types of patients will give your team a set of protocols to follow for triage, testing, and treatment. This will help streamline admissions, handoffs, and patient flow.

The hierarchy of prioritizing patients should go as follows:

  • Patients presenting with time-sensitive, potentially life-threatening conditions
  • Frail or elderly patients
  • Pregnant patients, children, and people with disabilities
  • Patients with established medical conditions
Capacity Management Practices

Once they’re on the predetermined course, you’ll want to monitor their flow until discharge.


#3. Take Advantage of Patient Flow Coordinators 


Patient flow coordinators improve communication between staff, speed up evaluations, and begin treatment for patients as early as in the waiting room.

Consider them like your patients’ bus driver; they’ll keep them on a set path of evaluation, testing, and treatment and monitor them along the way.

Using live data to track patient flow across your ED, flow coordinators will identify unnecessary bottlenecks and unclog the system to restore smooth sailing.

Capacity Management Practices

A person in this position needs strong leadership skills and the ability to:

  • Effectively communicate with patients and team members
  • Quickly and correctly fill out and read patient assessment documentation
  • Prioritize patients and look for signs of patient deterioration
  • Follow protocols for standard patient pathways

Take advantage of a flow coordinator and you’ll decrease waiting times and lower the number of patients who leave without being seen (LWBS).

The same happens when you follow this next tip.


#4. Create an Evaluation Space


Overcrowding in the lobby or waiting area of your ED may lead to a higher number of LWBS patients. 

So consider adding an evaluation space to deal with the crowding and start the patient flow process sooner.

This private area should be closed off and separate from the waiting area. Here your physicians can evaluate patients while they wait for a treatment room to become available.

Capacity Management Practices

After six months of implementing this tactic at one ED, researchers noticed[*]:

  • An average 30-minute decrease in wait times.
  • Median time from door to diagnostic evaluation by a qualified professional decreased from a mean of 38 minutes to 23 minutes.
  • LWBS rate decreased from six per month to 3.5 per month.

This area can also be used for conferencing specialists quickly via telemedicine.


#5. Encourage More Telemedicine and Telehealth


The easiest way to free up non-urgent cases in your ED is to institute and encourage more telemedicine and telehealth options.

Having an online portal where patients can ask questions virtually rather than visit the ED will free up spots for patients who need to be seen by an EM physician. 

And recent trends in telemedicine show these portals can assist during treatment discourses as well. Your team can connect with specialists from all over the world for face-to-face consultations about the right options. 

Large hospitals have the benefit of in-house specialists and now your independent ED can too. But that’s not the only good idea your ED can copy from hospitals in its own way.

Emergency Room Bed Management Best Practices Your ED Should Start Using Today

Let these emergency room bed management best practices inspire greater efficiency at your ED:


#1. Restructure Bed Huddles and Other Meetings


Bed huddles and patient discussions tend to begin with a rundown of stats and data everyone in the meeting already knows. So skip this exercise in time-wasting and jump right into strategizing and decision-making.

Your EM physicians will see and treat more patients this way, especially if you cap these meetings to 15 minutes or less.

The next tip also reduces unnecessary patient information regurgitation. 


#2. Switch to Overlapping Shifts


Patient handoffs are known to cause delays and errors in patient flow. Clear communication is required to remedy this but so is a change in scheduling. 

So rather than having one shift begin as soon as one ends, stagger them so leaving and arriving physicians and nurses work together for a bit.

Capacity Management Practices

The benefits of overlapping emergency shifts include faster patient care, greater collaboration between physicians, less decision-making fatigue, and fewer mistakes.

Those perks combined with advanced patient-tracking technology will help your ED run like a well-oiled machine no matter how busy it gets. 


#3. Track Beds or Rooms In Real Time


Technology gives hospitals real-time data about which beds are available, occupied, or in need of cleaning. 

These tools can be used by the patient flow coordinators in your ED to monitor treatment rooms or testing, assign staff to different areas that need attention, and manage real-time demand and capacity. 

Studies show utilizing patient flow solutions decreases average lengths of stay, improves treatment costs, increases the number of patients treated, and raises satisfaction scores[*].

Once you set the goals and parameters for the processes you want to track, you can monitor and evaluate how well your efforts are going — and discover which areas still need work.

Partner with an Expert Specializing in Capacity Management in Healthcare

Integrated emergency department capacity management saves your independent emergency physician group time and money while improving quality and experience for your patients.

Having full access to your financial and clinical data on a daily basis will allow your emergency medicine practice to assess your processes, analyze historical trends, and make decisions to solve capacity problems now and in the future.

DuvaSawko can regularly monitor your data and provide timely best-practices guidance. Dedicated account managers will help you interpret your intel and offer expert insight about how to troubleshoot and grow your practice efficiently.

Schedule your complimentary practice analysis now and learn which emergency department capacity management best practices you should implement at your ED today.

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