optimize patient flow

How to Optimize Patient Flow in Healthcare

Patient flow is exactly what you imagine: it’s the movement of patients though a healthcare facilities, from the admission point to their eventual discharge. As with many things in life, good patient flow is something you don’t even notice.

But when it’s bad? Boy is it a pain in the neck.

Today, we’re going to uncover what makes patient flow good or bad, and what to do to optimize patient journey at your healthcare facility.


Want to skip all this kerfuffle and optimize your patient flow? of Qminder patient management system and start improving it right now.


Patient flow problems

Good patient flow is characterized by:

  • Efficiency. It goes smoothly from one point to another. Everything is straightforward, and there are no extra steps to take.
  • Speed. In healthcare, there’s precious little of time. Fast admission and discharge means you can treat more patients.
  • Clear. It’s not always apparent where to go next, especially in multi-storied hospitals with several wings and departments. Good patient flow takes care of that.
  • Cost-effective. Unfortunately, healthcare tends to be underfinanced. The budget is mostly going to medical equipment and salaries, so the less resources patient flow demands, the better.

There are several factors which affect patient flow, such as patient volume, available resources (including human resources), and efficiency of logistics.

Poorly managed patient flow may result in adverse effects on patients’ health and even in higher mortality rates.

The problem may lie not only in the facility’s chaotic logistics but also inefficient scheduling. Overbooking plagues not only airlines and hotels but also, and perhaps more concerningly, hospitals.

Moreover, disorganized patient handoffs can negatively affect the flow of patients. When one patient is handed over from one practitioner to another, there may be enough obstacles along the way to create patient flow bottlenecks.

What makes patient flow optimized

1. Clear signage

importance of signage in healthcare

You need to easily direct patients to the correct floor, wing and department. If they get confused at any point about where to go next, they need to be able to find the right way on their own.

After all, it’s not feasible to always have a receptionist at hand, who would tell directions. Plus, some patients may require more help than the others.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) recognizes four types of hospital signage:

  • Identification: These signs denote the area.
  • Informational: These signs provide information.
  • Directional: These signs direct to a specific area or room.
  • Overhead: These signs provide better visibility without obstructing the pathways.

Moreover, all of the signs need to be easily readable — this includes color contrast, font, special symbols, and easy-to-spot location. Both tactile and visual readers need to be able to discern what the sign is saying; otherwise, patient flow suffers.

You can read about what makes a sign ADA-compliant here.

2. No bottlenecks

bottlenecks in hospitals

A bottleneck is, unfortunately, a common occurrence in healthcare. The typical bottleneck is at the reception desk, especially at peak hours.

When the volume of patients exceeds the human resources available at the moment, wait times shoot up and patient satisfaction plummets.

The key is to know your operational capacities, scheduling, peak times as well as to properly delegate work. Most hospitals still use outdated queue management systems, which can’t keep up with the number of patients.

A digital system like Qminder would be a great help in this case, as it adapts to all healthcare environments, from public hospitals to private clinics. It allows to plan and manage, in real time, patient interactions and helps avoid bottlenecks.

3. Communication is key

communication with patients

When something is not going the way you planned it or some healthcare points are overflowed, share this information with patients.

No-show rate is directly linked to how well-informed patients are about any and all changes happening around the hospital they’re at. If they feel they’re being left out, they might, understandably, take offense at that.

Or worse, they might not show at the next appointment. A patient may choose a different hospital and then never step foot inside your facility ever again.

Worse still, they might discourage their family members and friends from going to your facility, too. There’s precious little you could do at that point to win their trust back, so it’s better to use preventative measures — like optimizing your patient flow.

4. Set and measure patient flow goals

measure healthcare goals

No improvement can be done without setting specific goals and acting on them! This goes for optimizing patient flow, as well.

With modern digital patient management systems, this task can become much more manageable. As the system collects data throughout every visit, it can then provide it in a digestible format — say, a weekly report.

Then, it is easy to understand where bottlenecks occur and what the reason was. Which, in turn, makes it possible to make informed staffing and scheduling decisions, so that patient flow is improved in the future.

Healthcare is all about precision and reliability — and there’s nothing more precise or reliable than hard numbers you can act on.


The positive outcomes of optimized patient journey won’t keep you waiting. Good patient flow means:

  • Reduced stress in the waiting room. Well, duh! When waiting is smooth and enjoyable, there’s no stress to speak of.
  • Minimized no-show rate. Don’t be mistaken, patients can be choosers. Some would rather suffer for a bit than be subjected to a chaotic care process.
  • Reduced operational wastage. What’s better than serving your patients effectively? It’s serving your patients effectively and saving money and resources at the same time!
  • Improved patient data capture. That’s assuming you get a digital queuing system to help you. Which you will, right?
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