As healthcare becomes more digitized, medical providers should consider taking a close look at their clinical workflows. A clinical workflow strategy that addresses the needs of both patients and healthcare providers can help patients get the right care without adding to providers’ mounting burnout.
In this post, we break down clinical workflows and how you can create a strategy that helps your practice to work efficiently, effectively, and with patient care still top of mind.
What is a clinical workflow?
“Clinical workflow” refers to the process of delivering care to patients. More specifically, it’s a series of tasks performed by certain people within and between healthcare organizations.
Generally speaking, there are four clinical workflow phases: 1) identifying patients, 2) engaging patients and their care teams, 3) providing care treatment, and 4) monitoring outcomes and making necessary treatment adjustments. There is a clinical workflow for each step of the patient journey. For example:
- Reminding patients about their appointments
- Gathering insurance and other intake information
- Checking patients in for their appointments
- Conducting a patient visit, including time with a nurse and physician
- Updating a patient’s chart
- Creating and sharing a care plan with a patient and their care team
- Ordering labs or medication for a patient
- Providing a patient with test results
- Following up with patients after a procedure
- Billing insurance and/or the patient for a visit
- Engaging no-shows
- Rescheduling patients
While not exhaustive, this list provides examples of workflows that affect both healthcare providers and their patients.
Why workflows may be important for healthcare providers
In the simplest terms, workflows are important because they can enable healthcare providers to accomplish a particular goal at a moment in time — whether that’s confirming appointments for the following day, submitting reimbursement claims or sharing test results with a patient.
Ideally, workflows would be designed to help optimize patient outcomes and improve the overall quality of care – without adding to provider burdens. However, many modern medical practices continuously complain about administrative burnout due to inefficient workflows.
At the end of the day, workflows may only be effective if they benefit both the patient and the practice. Practices can work towards achieving this by considering workflow automation and a robust workflow management strategy.
Workflows and physician burnout
Traditionally, clinical workflows have been manual processes that may require practice staff to spend hours on the phone or managing paperwork. Electronic health records (EHRs) and other technology solutions have led to digitized workflows, helping medical professionals to automate routine tasks and eliminate duplicate data entry across systems.
However, burnout continues to be a real issue for medical providers. In fact, a recent joint study by the American Medical Association, Mayo Clinic and Stanford Medicine found that burnout is on the rise, and two out of every three physicians are experiencing burnout in some form.
The basics of workflow management
Generally speaking, workflow management refers to the process of defining, designing and controlling the flow of tasks and activities involved in a business process. This means mapping out each step required to complete a particular process and identifying the individuals and solutions responsible for each step.
In healthcare, workflow management can help a practice to run more efficiently and effectively, to allow patients to get quality care, while practices may be able to reduce or prevent burnout.
To help improve workflow functionality, consider assigning everyone a specific role. This includes clinical workers like nurses and physicians as well as administrative staff. Regardless of position, everyone’s role is important and requires communication and collaboration to prevent cracks in patient care.
Potential benefits of building a workflow strategy
A workflow strategy can be important to a practice’s success for various reasons. Running a practice smoothly and with minimal stress can help healthcare professionals focus on providing quality patient care. Other potential benefits may include:
1. Improved efficiency
When practices are deliberate about their workflow strategies, there may be fewer questions about who is supposed to be doing what at any given time or for any given task. This means there is potential for less redundancy and more focus.
In many cases, workflow strategies include technology solutions that seamlessly connect to the provider’s EHR. As such, workflows may be automated. For example, instead of calling every patient to confirm an appointment, practices can use a solution like Klara to send automated reminders via SMS message.
2. Less time spent on manual tasks
Studies show that 40% of clinical office work may be redundant. To help you and your staff use your time more efficiently, you should first identify the redundancies and then figure out how to improve on them.
For example, does your staff feel like they are spending excessive time inputting patients’ health insurance information? Is your practice still using fax machines to send and receive information that then has to be manually recorded into your EHR? Are you constantly fielding unnecessary calls?
Whatever the case may be, creating more efficient workflows for manual and routine tasks may help give you more time to spend with your patients.
3. Better patient experience
Streamlined workflows may give you more time with patients and free you from feeling overwhelmed. Additionally — and because communication is such a huge component of an optimized workflow strategy — you may be able to more efficiently coordinate a patient’s care with their entire care team, which could lead to an overall improved patient experience.
Tips for helping to improve your clinical workflow
There are several ways to help improve your clinical workflow. Here are the three approaches that might help your practice:
1. Audit current processes
You likely already have an idea of where you could improve efficiencies. Still, talking to your staff about workflow bottlenecks may help you prioritize where to start. Map out your current processes, estimate how much time and manpower is spent on each one, and then figure out what is needed to improve them.
Additionally, consider how a new workflow might impact other workflows so you can plan accordingly. There is bound to be an adjustment period, but if you can plan ahead for it, you’ll help set up your practice for success.
2. Embrace technology
Your workflows may benefit from a technology solution designed to digitize and automate routine tasks. Let’s look at patient communication as an example.
On one hand, medical practices may routinely call patients to confirm appointments, share lab results, and discuss treatment plans. These outgoing phone calls can result in playing rounds of phone tag and unanswered voicemails. On the other hand, patients often call practices to schedule appointments, check on lab results or ask questions about their treatment plans — that is if they are able to get through to someone.
With a patient engagement solution like Klara, these communications can be digitized and patients may be able to message your practice on their own time.
Not only could technology solutions help automate manual processes, but they may also help your practice scale as it grows and/or if you open multiple locations.
3. Consider interoperability
Interoperability is a hot topic in healthcare. It refers to the ability of systems to exchange patient data.
Imagine a patient visiting the dermatologist for a routine skin cancer screening. The interoperability between an EHR, third-party laboratory testing, and patient communication platform could help streamline the experience for both the patient and provider. During the visit, the dermatologist documents the examination findings directly in the EHR, including any suspicious moles or lesions. The EHR system may automatically trigger a laboratory testing order for biopsy analysis. Once the results are available, they seamlessly flow back into the EHR, alerting the dermatologist. The patient, meanwhile, receives a secure notification through the patient communication platform, allowing them to view the results, schedule follow-up appointments, or ask any questions, providing a coordinated and efficient care pathway.
The U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has reiterated the importance of interoperability and technology to achieve appropriate access to complete health records for patients, healthcare providers, and payers, which CMS has observed could lead to more informed patients and better health outcomes.
How Klara’s workflow automation platform can help streamline workflows
Klara is a conversational patient engagement platform designed to help medical practices streamline workflows and improve communication with patients and other providers.
For example, Klara’s communication tools can help to streamline workflows such as:
- Routine patient outreach: With patient consent, you can automate routine outreach across every step of the patient journey. This includes everything from insurance and intake to appointment reminders to follow-up outreach and no-show engagement.
- Other patient communication: Give patients a number they can message with questions. This may help reduce call volume, eliminate phone tag and allow patients to communicate on their own time and in the manner they prefer.
- Provider collaboration: Improve collaboration with team members and external Klara network providers and pharmacies to streamline prior authorizations, referrals, and consults.
All communication within Klara is stored in one conversation thread so you can easily keep track of each patient’s care. Patients can message their providers from their mobile phones or any desktop computer. In addition, Klara connects to over 50 EHR and PM systems so you can help keep all patient information centralized and synchronized.
To learn more about how Klara’s patient communication platform can help your practice improve communication workflows, schedule a personalized demo today.
This blog is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal or medical advice. Please consult with your legal counsel and other qualified advisors to ensure compliance with applicable laws, regulations and standards.