In the ever-evolving landscape of health and social care, optimising patient flow and reducing backlogs are crucial goals for the National Health Service.
The key to improving flow is outlined in The Theory of Constraints, a management philosophy that focuses on identifying and alleviating bottlenecks or constraints that hinder the overall performance of a process. It shows that by removing the primary constraint, the process can perform better, thereby accelerating flow and improving outcomes.
Within the health and care setting, such constraints may manifest as limited resources, capacity constraints, or inefficient patient management that lead to delays in patient care and elongated waiting times.
Process mining, a potent analytical technique, provides unparalleled advantages to the NHS and care organisations in comprehending patient flow, identifying genuine constraints, and streamlining backlog reduction initiatives.
Why use process mining techniques to analyse patient flow?
Practical experience deploying process mining within health and social care environments has shown that there are five principal reasons that mean process mining should be considered as the tool of choice for understanding patient flow and identifying constraints:
Objective Basis Process mining provides an objective and fact-based analysis of patient flow. By relying on actual patient event data, it avoids subjective assumptions or biases present in manual process mapping or perception-based analyses about what causes slow patient flow. This approach fosters greater acceptance and collaboration among process owners, process users, clinicians, and managers.
Patient-Centric Approach A standout feature of process mining is its patient-centric approach. It sheds light on the bottlenecks and delays that patients face during their healthcare journey, a perspective rarely seen in organisational dashboards. Embracing this patient-centric view reduces the blame game and encourages collaboration among stakeholders, promoting a collective effort to optimise patient flow and reduce backlogs.
Engaging Visualisation Process mining presents data in engaging visualisations that resonate with frontline staff. Unlike traditional Statistical Process Control (SPC) charts, process mining’s intuitive visual representations enable staff to easily comprehend the complexities of their processes. By providing a clear picture of the current state, staff members can challenge existing practices and develop improvement opportunities.
Granular Actionable Insights Process mining provides detailed and specific insights that drive frontline staff to actively engage with the analysis. Unlike summary data or static dashboards, the technique delves deep into the intricacies of the processes, encouraging staff to take ownership of improvement initiatives and make data-driven decisions. Identifying root causes becomes more accessible, facilitating targeted process enhancements.
Easy to Start and Scale Implementing process mining within the NHS and care organisations is relatively straightforward and scalable. Several factors contribute to its ease of adoption: • Utilisation of existing data Process mining leverages pre-existing data, eliminating delays associated with data collection and processing. • Automated process discovery No need for time-consuming post-it note sessions or manual process mapping. Process mining automatically uncovers the reality of the processes. • Anonymity can aid governance. Process mining can be conducted with anonymous data, making it easier to navigate governance permissions. • User-friendly tools and low-cost options The availability of user-friendly tools and cost-effective options facilitates training and scaling across various healthcare units. • Immediate value No data science / development skills are needed if the right tools are chosen meaning any analyst can pick up the technique and start creating value from data insights immediately.
What does patient flow analysis enable?
Questions that are rightfully asked about patient flow analysis and process mining include “does this type of analysis make a difference?” and “Is it worth it?”
Following a patient flow analysis using process mining techniques, health and care organisations typically take multiple actions to improve patient flow and address identified bottlenecks. There are six major activities that take place:
Process Change and Optimisation Based on the insights gained from the patient flow analysis, unnecessary steps and inefficiencies in the processes are identified and removed. Process change may involve streamlining workflows, eliminating redundant tasks, and redesigning certain steps to reduce rework and delays. By optimising the processes, healthcare providers can ensure that patients move smoothly through their care journey with minimised wait times and improved efficiency.
Process Standardisation Standardising processes across different units or departments within the healthcare organisation is crucial for consistent and reliable patient flow. The insights obtained from process mining help identify best practices, and these can be implemented as standard operating procedures. Standardisation reduces process variations, enhances predictability, and contributes to better patient outcomes.
Capacity Changes and Resource Allocation Patient flow analysis often reveals areas with real capacity constraints or resource imbalances. Healthcare providers can adjust capacity by allocating resources more effectively, including staff, equipment, and facilities. By aligning resource availability with patient demand, healthcare organisations can reduce waiting times and provide more timely and efficient care.
Investment Focused on Real Bottlenecks Process mining highlights the real bottlenecks in the patient flow, which may require targeted investments. These investments could include upgrading equipment, expanding facilities, or employing additional staff to address capacity constraints. By investing strategically, healthcare organisations can alleviate bottlenecks and enhance the overall flow of patients.
Risk Identification and Mitigation The analysis of patient flow may reveal potential risks, biases, and vulnerabilities in the processes. To mitigate these risks, healthcare providers can implement appropriate measures, such as process controls, quality assurance protocols, and standardised communication practices. By proactively addressing risks, patient safety is improved, equality is ensured and potential disruptions to patient flow are minimised.
Real-Time Monitoring and Continuous Improvement Implementing real-time monitoring solutions allows healthcare providers to track patient flow metrics, key performance indicators (KPIs), and process deviations in real-time. This enables rapid responses to emerging issues and opportunities for immediate interventions to maintain optimal patient flow. Continuous improvement practices are also enhanced, as frontline staff can access up-to-date data and make data-driven decisions for ongoing process optimisation. Organisations can begin to track the impact of changes made and evaluate the effectiveness of new processes.
By taking these actions, health and care organisations can create a more efficient, patient-centred care environment, with reduced waiting times, enhanced patient experiences, and better overall outcomes.
Process mining can play an instrumental role in optimising patient flow within the NHS and care organisations. By employing this powerful analytical technique, healthcare providers gain a patient-centric view, identify bottlenecks, and make data-driven decisions to streamline processes.
Process mining’s objective basis, engaging visualisations, and granular insights empower frontline staff to enhance efficiency, reduce waiting times, and improve overall patient outcomes.
With its ease of implementation and scalability, process mining emerges as a valuable asset in achieving a more efficient and patient-centred healthcare system.
What next for the NHS?
Process mining has proven to be effective is surfacing patient journey insights within elective care settings. Trusts piloting the approach are now looking to use these insights to improve patient flow. If your Trust is interested in participating in future pilots, please reach out to our team for more details.
The growing process mining community of practice at AnalystX is also available to help you get started. We are continuing to explore additional used cases including a range of tools and additional techniques that can enhance the NHS analytics capabilities.
As our process mining community of practice mature, we will be making available pilots, tools and techniques, knowledge and learning, training and other process mining events over the next year to help you on your journey.
If you are already using process mining at your organisation, we would love to hear about your experience and your work, if you would like to learn more about process mining please join our community of practice (AnalystX Process Mining), to receive a live demo or have further questions, please get in touch with a member of the Logan Tod & Co team.