How Can I Improve The Flow Of Operations For My Public Health Agency?
Public health agencies today deal with many challenges from economic recessions, increases in uninsured care and growing competition for outpatient services. However, there are still tons of stops health agencies can undertake to increase their operations and profitability amid these troublesome conditions.
Ensuring that your operation can flow in a seamless manner will increase not only your agency’s reputation but profitability as well. According to some of the top industry experts, you can pull this off by focusing on two key areas, reducing costs and increasing reimbursement. A health agency’s reputation is also another factor that needs to be taken into consideration. Having a positive reputation will attract patients, qualified staff members, and recommendations from referring physicians. If your operation flow isn’t at its peak, none of this will be possible and will eventually lead to your business being impacted in a negative manner.
Optimizing flow can be like solving a puzzle. Public health agencies have to combine various strategies and process along with engaging all team members to decide what best fits them. The result is an efficient operation that’s conducive to improved clinical outcomes, positive patient experiences, physician satisfaction, improved safety, reduced care costs and much more.
Here are some ideas and proven strategies that have been implemented to optimize and streamline your flow:
Find and invest in top talent
Like any other market across the nation, your health agency is a highly competitive healthcare business. It’s never too early or late to start searching for some of the best talents around. Search for employees that can easily fit in your organization culturally but also share in your passion and commitment to providing first-class patient care. Once you’ve hired them, empower the employees to take ownership of their various departments. Bring them on board early enough to have input into the workflow as well as the organization of their department. Work together as a team having each department up and running properly. It’s incredibly rewarding to see the pride a staff can have once they’ve managed to help improve the organization.
Encourage a Culture of Accountability
Everyone should be taken responsibility for the facility’s ongoing success and mishaps and commit to making a positive difference. Staff members in positions of leadership should be clear when communicating expectations and hold everyone to high standards. Additionally, to encouraging providers and staff members to participate in the strategic process, you should also request them to be a part of the solution. For example, a physician and an advanced practice provider (APP) managed to develop a program that allows APP to practice at the top of their license and become expert emergency caregivers. This kind of program has led to some of the pressure on physicians being allocated and can contribute to a more positive and collaborative care environment.
Reduce staffing costs with data to drive staffing decisions
Due to labor being one of the largest single expenses for running a health agency, it’s critical that you are not over or under-staffing any of the facilities. Leaders should consider the use of flexible staffing, such as part-time or hourly employees, and adjusting staffing based on patient census data. Monitoring the efficiency of this staffing should also be done by continuously reviewing benchmarking data such as hours worked per case.
One way to do this is by monitoring your facilities patient volume on a daily basis and adjusting the staffing accordingly. The easiest thing a health agency can do to improve their operation is for the senior management team to assume responsibility for the day-to-day performance of an organization and watch the organization's performance in real-time. Pulling this off will require a shift in order to emphasize on the day-to-day and not pay-period to pay-period or month-to-month.
Another important factor is the concern regarding efficient staffing is communication throughout the organization and that staff members work in collaboration with each other. Sharing staffing efficiency benchmarking data with key members and providing feedback regarding the productivity of each member should also be done.
Flexible staffing is incredibly useful for nursing staff. Managers should review clock-in times versus surgery-start times and determine if the staff is consistently arriving before surgery is about to begin. If this is the case, managers can utilize flexible staffing to allow the nursing staff to arrive at a later time so once surgeries are run over, no overtime expenses are incurred.
Although some staffing cuts may be required at times, business owners should be careful not to take a blanket approach to layoffs or cuts in services. As a leader must take a close look at their business before making a final decision.
Reduce supply costs by better managing vendors
As a business owner, you can reduce supply costs by working with vendors to improve contracts and encouraging physicians to make fiscally responsible supply decisions. When it comes to dealing with supply costs, you must drive the expense or the vendor will drive it for you.
Health agencies can reduce supply cost by reducing the number of vendors. For example, other agencies are currently in the process of reducing the number of vendors for their various department with the aims to eventually all the vendors down to 4-6 companies. This action is expected to save them from at least a million dollars in supply costs.
Another way in which public health agencies can reduce supply costs is by requiring the vendors to submit purchase for any equipment or implants that are not included in the negotiation, written agreement with the facility. If you don't require this, it's possible that a vendor will drop off the invoice for a pricey piece of equipment or implant after the procedure has already taken place and walked out the back door, which can greatly hurt your operation.
Integrate All Departments
A facility is only a strong as its weakest link. While most perceive patient flow as an issue that can mainly affect the emergency department, in reality, it can affect the entire organization as a whole. When a single department isn’t operating at optimal levels, the rest of the facility will be impacted negatively. At times, bottlenecks will occur in other departments, such as the intensive care unit, and eventually, trickle down to the emergency department. As every single department begins to become more aligned on similar goals, each department can focus on providing the best possible care to the patient and instead of trying to overcome any operational bottlenecks.
Explore various staffing models
Several factors including a facility’s geographic location and budget can cause things to become difficult when determining how better staff a facility. Gaining the proper physicians tends to be a difficult challenge in rural settings. Although, when APPs are adept at performing plenty of similar procedures as physicians, such as intubations and central lines, they can support physicians and help ensure patients receive proper and timely care. Similarly, the use of scribes significantly improves the amount of contact time physicians have with their patients. With the need to spend less time on record-keeping and administrative tasks, physicians will be able to reduce wait times and focus on patients, driving both efficiency and patient experience scores.
Don't forget to get your hands dirty
As the owner, you must have the view from the highest point. However, as a leader, you must also have a view from the bottom up. Everyone hard to start somewhere and climb there a way to the top. Some people can have begun their careers as some kind of operating room nurse, for example, and have never forgotten that. It’s a good idea to work side-by-side with your nurses and physicians treating the patients on a regular basis. Not only will it reinforce your love for taking care of patients, but also allow you to interact with your employees and patients on a first-hand basis enabling you to better understand how you can best meet patient needs, solve problems and create a better working environment for your staff. If you decide to avoid getting back into the trenches with your staff, you could easily forget the hard work that is being done by people at all levels.
Involve physicians in cost reduction efforts
Involve physicians in cost reduction efforts. Health organizations should work to encourage physicians to become more concerned about the cost of supplies and other activities, such as unnecessary tests and inefficient coding process that could ramp up costs. Health agencies have a unique opportunity to leverage physicians interest in having their agency help stabilize their income with the organization's needs to involve physicians in cutting costs and improving quality.
Health agencies can encourage the use of products from vendors that are cost-effective but still retain high quality, especially in areas such as orthopedic implants, which are considerably costly for most organizations. Furthermore, experts say the use of protocol-based care will reduce the cost associated with any unnecessary tests or treatments. Physicians play a major role for maintaining a health agency operation, but unless they are given a reason to be concerned over a hospitals profitability, they will make choices in what and to whom they refer services that will not consider the implications to the agency. Leaders should work to help medical staff understand the connection of their referrals to the hospitals’ visibility so that their referral decisions reflect the value they place on the agency.
Technology to help enhance care
As software continues to be constantly developed to identify problems and enhance the delivery of care. Using the proper software can help improve communication between emergency physicians and nurses. The software is also capable of reducing emergency departments boarding times, expedite inpatient admissions, decrease the length of stay and, most importantly, lower the cost of care. Telemedicine is another fantastic resources, especially for any small or rural health agency. Instead of having to wait for a specialist to arrive at your facility, physicians will be capable of receiving real-time assistance from a specialist and prevent care delays.
There is an incredible amount of hard work that goes into launching your own public health agency from the ground up. It’s easy to simply sit back and consider the job done once you’ve opened the doors. Although, as soon as the doors of your facility open up, more and more challenges will emerge, some that you can easily anticipate, others will give you and your staff a chance to learn and grow. As a business owner, you have to always be looking for ways to improve the flow of operation not only for the sake of your agency but for patients and staff.