Originally published October 2022, updated June 2023.
Clinical workflows have long been cited as a source of stress and burnout for healthcare administrative staff and providers. In 2019, the National Academy of Medicine reported that healthcare worker burnout had reached crisis levels. COVID-19 further exacerbated existing challenges, leading to the surgeon general's recent advisory.
Now with the pandemic officially over, there's an opportunity to step back and evaluate where improvements can be made and explore tools to help ease the load. With the right plan and technology, administrative and clinical staff can implement new workflow protocols, improving the patient experience,, reducing staff workloads, and minimizing the risk of staff and clinician burnout.
Transforming Clinical Workflows in a Post-COVID Era
One study showed that, on average, for every hour of direct patient care, a primary care provider spends two hours on administrative tasks. That is time that could be better spent with patients, in the community, and building relationships with colleagues—all essential to strengthening the health and well-being of healthcare workers which in turn directly impacts care to patients.
New clinical workflow protocol implementation can help to reduce administrative burdens by streamlining care delivery, minimizing healthcare worker burnout and allowing for more productive time spent with patients, communities, and colleagues. There's a significant opportunity to implement next-gen automation—or automating in a way that aligns with clinical workflows and pain points—to create a better experience for staff, providers, and patients.
Improving Clinical Workflow Protocol Implementation
Healthcare providers can take the following steps to improve clinical workflow protocol implementation as a whole:
Identify existing pain points in clinical workflows
Start by identifying existing pain points by performing a clinical workflow analysis. A good place to begin is by taking advantage of workflow evaluation tools available from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, which recommends a 5-step process for clinical workflow assessment:
Compile statistics and best practices from other healthcare organizations and apply them to your organization.
Be sure your checklist includes pre-appointment activities such as appointment scheduling, visit reminders, both administrative and clinical check-in procedures, as well as what happens during and after exams.
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has many useful templates on their website, including flowcharts for common patient visits, incoming calls, in-office prescribing, and much more.
Interviews should include both healthcare professionals and patients, and should encompass the entire continuum of care, from appointment scheduling to check-out.
Prior to applying any new changes or shortly after implementation of a new system, this evaluation should determine the extent any new workflows are user-friendly.
Beware of manual clinical processes
Which hiccups in your current processes impede efficiency? Manual processes such as appointment management are the perfect example of an outdated approach that could easily be improved by putting new clinical workflow protocols and technologies in place.
For instance, tasks such as fielding incoming and outgoing phone calls and manually entering patient data into electronic health records (EHR) and practice management systems (PMS) are cumbersome and inefficient. Implementing changes such as automated appointment reminders and digital patient intake can save practice staff a significant amount of time—time that's better spent caring for patients.
Approach it like a change management exercise
Change is challenging in healthcare environments, but that shouldn't stop practices from taking steps to enhance and improve operations. Instead, approach new clinical workflow protocol implementation as a change management exercise. Consider following John Kotter's award-winning, eight-step methodology for lasting change:
- Create a sense of urgency, building momentum and inspiring people to act on the opportunity to implement process improvements.
- Identify key stakeholders or a coalition of committed individuals to guide, coordinate, and communicate said change.
- Develop a strategic vision to make clear the benefits of improving clinical workflow protocol implementation and gain buy-in.
- Rally around opportunities by identifying those who actively want to contribute and are unified in their pursuit.
- Remove change barriers by identifying and addressing any obstacles that may create delays or roadblocks.
- Celebrate short-term wins, recognizing and communicating them early and often to track progress toward process improvement goals.
- Sustain the acceleration, or in other words, keep going by implementing new tools, trainings, and processes to achieve your goals.
- Reinforce any changes by embedding new clinical workflow protocols into your practice's culture and training.
Equip patients with self-service engagement tools
Practices can also minimize workflow frustrations and implement new protocols by putting patients in the driver's seat. Offering self-service engagement tools improves efficiency while also offering a modern digital experience.
Today's healthcare patients and consumers both want and expect a top-notch digital experience from their providers, with access to convenient self-service tools such as online appointment scheduling, two-way messaging, and secure bill pay. In fact, 71 percent of patients said they want their healthcare journey to be as convenient and straightforward as their experiences in other areas of life, such as online shopping.
Choose the right patient engagement technology
Not all patient engagement technology is created equally. Choosing the right suite of engagement solutions is vital in order to implement new clinical protocols and truly realize workflow efficiency. Leading patient engagement technology is differentiated by built-in proficiencies that enhance practice workflows.
For example, a platform with seamless EHR integration can help eliminate manual data entry, saving time and minimizing the potential for human error. Additionally, look for a patient engagement vendor that provides thorough implementation and migration support. The right vendor will support your practice throughout the onboarding and implementation stages (and beyond), helping to align their technology with your unique workflows.
Start Implementing New Clinical Workflow Protocols
Changing the way your practice operates can be intimidating. However, with a strategic approach and modern technology, healthcare practices like yours can implement new clinical workflow protocols both painlessly and effectively, improving not only the working conditions of your clinical team, but also cultivating an environment focused on quality of care and patient outcomes.
Download The Complete Guide to Simplifying Practice Workflows to learn more about implementing new protocols for greater efficiency.