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Teaching acute hospital staff and students about patient flow

08 July 2021
Volume 30 · Issue 13


Good patient flow in an acute hospital is concerned with ensuring patients experience minimal delays throughout the hospital journey, from the emergency department to the wards, outpatients and to a suitable discharge destination. Good flow requires effective processes, staff buy-in and staff education. This study aimed to explore ways in which this topic is currently taught in an Irish acute hospital group. Participants were recruited to engage in semi-structured interviews about their experience of teaching patient flow. Following qualitative data analysis using a structured analysis guide, five main themes were identified: current methods, unstructured nature of teaching, frustration with frequency, dissemination of teaching/learning and opportunities for improvement. Recommendations from this study could be used to support a formalised approach to teaching this topic in the future. The use of the Teaching for Understanding framework and Universal Design for Learning principles are strongly advocated to support the development of a nationwide module, to structure the topics to be taught and provide guidance on how to effectively and efficiently teach this topic in Ireland.

Patient flow is concerned with the safe movement of patients through their care pathway—from community, throughout the hospital setting and through a process of egress or discharge back to the community again. It denotes the flow of patients between staff, departments and organisations along a pathway of care (Health Foundation, 2013). Configuring healthcare systems with effective patient flow is critical to the delivery of safe, effective patient care. Poor flow can lead to a poor patient experience, increased delays and therefore increased costs. Poor flow means that patients will experience delays in aspects of their care. Good flow in acute care means that patients will get to the right ward, at the right time, under the right consultant team and will have the minimum length of stay necessary. Ideally it also means that necessary tests/investigations will happen with minimal delay. Good flow also inherently means effective and timely links with alternative level of care settings—community-based services, step-down facilities, rehabilitation, long-term care, etc.

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