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Clinical operations research: A new frontier for inquiry in academic health systems

Journal of Hospital Medicine November 28, 2019

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PAIR Center Research Team


Patient throughput in healthcare systems is increasingly important to policymakers, hospital leaders, clinicians, and patients alike. In 1983, Congress passed legislation instructing the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to implement the “prospective payment system,” which sets reimbursement for CMS hospitalizations to a fixed rate, regardless of the length of stay (LOS). Policy changes such as this coupled with increased market consolidation (ie, fewer hospitals for more patients) and increased patient acuity have created significant challenges for hospital leaders to manage patient throughput and reduce or maintain LOS. Additionally, emergency department (ED) overcrowding and intensive care unit (ICU) capacity strain studies have demonstrated associations with adverse patient outcomes and quality of care. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the impact of these forces on clinicians and patients has compromised the patient-clinician relationship and patient experience. As patient throughput is important to multiple stakeholders, novel approaches to understanding and mitigating bottlenecks are imperative.

The article by Mishra and colleagues in this month’s issue of the Journal of Hospital Medicine (JHM) describes one such novel methodology to evaluate patient throughput at a major academic hospital.The authors utilized process mapping, time and motion study, and hospital data to simulate four discrete future states for internal medicine patients that were under consideration for implementation at their institution: (1) localizing housestaff teams and patients to specific wards; (2) adding an additional 26-bed ward; (3) adding an additional hospitalist team; and (4) adding an additional ward and team and allowing for four additional patient admissions per day. Each of these approaches improved certain metrics with the tradeoff of worsening other metrics. Interestingly, geographic localization of housestaff teams and patients alone (Future State 1) resulted in decreased rounding time and patient dispersion but increased LOS and ED boarding time. Adding an additional ward (Future State 2) had the opposite effect (ie, decreased LOS and ED boarding time but increased rounding time and patient dispersion). Adding an additional hospitalist team (Future State 3) did not change LOS or ED boarding time but reduced patient dispersion and team census. Finally, adding both a ward and hospitalist team (Future State 4) reduced LOS and ED boarding time but increased rounding time and patient dispersion. These results provide a compelling case for modeling changes in clinical operations to weigh the risks and benefits of each approach with hospital priorities prior to implementation of one strategy versus another.


National Heart,Lung,and Blood Institute (NHLBI)