Shockingly, 1 in 5 Americans will experience mental illness in a given year and 1 in 25 Americans already live with a serious behavioral illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression, according to the nation’s health protection agency, CDC.

Recent research by Mental Health America also found that 24.7% of adults with a behavioral illness report an unmet need for treatment. Demand for behavioral health treatment pathways in the U.S. has reached an all-time high.

So why are we talking about the importance of patient flow? Patient flow is important in any healthcare facility, but in behavioral health settings, it could be argued it is even more so. Treating patients who have behavioral health problems comes with its own unique set of challenges. There are, for example, more no-shows for appointments in this cohort.

The blog considers some of the patient flow challenges in behavioral health settings and explains how effective patient flow solutions can help overcome them. First, let’s look at the complexity of patient flow before considering the challenges and the importance of optimizing the patient journey.

The complexity of patient flow

Patient flow isn’t just about the movement of a patient from A to B in a facility. It incorporates everything from appointment scheduling, the communication of information, to interactions between staff and physicians, and between staff and patients. In fact, it covers everything to do with the patient journey and patient engagement. It involves medical care, resources and internal systems.

A patient’s attitudes and behaviors also play a role in ease of patient flow and this can be more challenging in behavioral health.

The importance of patient flow

The importance of patient flow

Patient flow is vitally important in healthcare for two predominant reasons; the first is patient safety and the second is health outcomes. Ultimately, any bottlenecks in the patient journey disrupts treatment plans. Without optimum treatment, health suffers.

Poor patient flow has so many repercussions – it’s not good for patients’ health, it places additional strain on staff, and it damages a provider’s reputation. Ultimately, it reduces revenue and increases cost, making a double hit to a provider’s bottom line. Above all, it has implications for the safety of patients.

Patient flow matters in all healthcare settings. But in behavioral health facilities or departments, any hold-up in the patient journey adds unnecessary stress to the people who are least able to manage it.

The challenges of attendance

The challenges of hospital attendance

For someone with a behavioral health condition, attending a hospital or outpatient facility, or accessing ambulatory care, can be fraught with difficulties. Without the help of supportive friends or family, even keeping an appointment can feel like climbing a mountain.

It has been well reported that no shows are particularly problematic in behavioral health treatment centers. For example, studies demonstrate that appointment no-shows are prevalent in addiction treatment settings, with 29%–42% failing to begin treatment, and 15%–50% not returning for a second appointment. Obviously, this heavily affects treatment outcomes. Missed appointments in addiction treatment are correlated with a lack of commitment to abstinence.

Text messaging in healthcare is making a difference. Gentle reminders and regular information sent by text can be incredibly reassuring to patients who are nervous about their forthcoming visit.

Losing the wait

Losing the wait at the hospital

Not so long ago, busy, loud waiting rooms were the norm in most healthcare settings. But this has changed.

There are not many positive things that can be said about COVID-19, but the accelerated transformation in check-in procedures at hospital and outpatient facilities is certainly one of the few. Long waits and noisy, packed waiting rooms, which can adversely affect patients with behavioral health problems, could now be consigned to history.

Since the pandemic, even with masks, many patients are afraid of being with other people in enclosed spaces. Virtual waiting rooms are being used to manage the flow of patients into healthcare facilities. This flexible sign-in, and more tightly managed flow, serves a particular purpose for those anxious about being in busy overcrowded spaces.

So, what is it about waiting rooms that makes people anxious? A study on what affects the anxiety levels of patients in the waiting room of an emergency department found the following to contribute:

  • distrust between the patients and staff of the hospital,
  • the patients’ consistent focus on their status,
  • and an uncertainty about the waiting time.

For patients with behavioral health problems, all of these issues are likely to be exacerbated. Wait times, in particular, could cause a patient to abscond. Efficient patient flow can make a huge difference to patients in behavioral health settings.

Patient safety: minimizing the risks

Patient safety

Patient safety refers to the prevention of harm when receiving healthcare services. Many of the patient safety risk factors that exist in medical settings also apply to behavioral health settings, but in addition, there are unique patient safety issues in behavioral health that are different from those in physical medical care.

Patients with behavioral health issues can more easily become anxious, agitated, or even abscond.

Advancing safer patient care practices in behavioral health settings require effective communication, service integration, and inter-professional collaboration. Patient flow solutions are helping. Providers are able to reduce wait times, identify bottlenecks in the patient journey, and eliminate oversights and patient misplacement.

Some patient safety issues are either more common among individuals with behavioral health problems or are atypical of those arising in acute medical care. These include safety issues around seclusion and restraint, self-harming behavior, absconding, and reduced capacity for self-advocacy. When patient flow is optimized, staff can be in the right place at the right time and risks to safety can be minimized.

At the very least, calm, efficient patient flow can help to minimize anxiety in patients.

The role of patient flow solutions

The role of patient flow solutions

Patient flow solutions help to significantly reduce wait times and prevent no-shows. Automated appointment scheduling and appointment reminders save admin time and improve compliance.

Text messaging and paging systems offer more effective and timely communication and make it easy to direct patients to their next step in care. Patients can be reminded to take medication and be given timely prompts for better self-care. Patients can also now see wait times on a provider’s website. Better patient flow provides much greater certainty to patients, which is essential in behavioral health settings.

PatientTrak’s patient flow solution has been sensitively designed to help providers maximize their offering of effective and timely care. It seamlessly integrates with EHRs, improves staff efficiency and patient flow for arrival, engagement, healthcare delivery, social distancing, and online scheduling, as well as post-visit, through surveys and reputation management.

Better patient flow and improved patient engagement matter.  Find out more from our expert team today.

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