Length of stay is both a direct and indirect factor in efficient and effective hospital operations. However, it may be an even more substantial clinical metric today than hospital administrators, management, and executives realize.
The impact can be considerable when ignored or de-prioritized.
Contributing factors to length of stay
A patient being admitted, treated, and discharged quickly and seamlessly has lasting effects on patient health outcomes, overall satisfaction, and hospital profit. There are many contributing factors and costs of longer hospital length of stay, including:
- Employment status
- Marital status
- History of previous admission
- Patient condition at discharge
- Medical condition
- Method of payment
- Type of treatment
Reducing the length of stay
While some of these factors are beyond a hospital’s control, there are some that can be proactively addressed with a referral management platform like Aidin. For example, monitoring and managing patients from admission to discharge helps a hospital improve overall efficiency, and, ultimately, reduce length of stay.
Improving communication between care teams can also significantly decrease a patient’s length of stay. The impact is substantial for patients as well– according to a study cited in the National Library of Medicine, miscommunication is estimated to cause around 80% of serious medical errors. Examples of issues include patients being transferred with little information from providers or when bringing new members onto a care team and they need to be briefed on a patient’s history and needs. When these miscommunications occur, it can lead to increased patient length of stay, as well as increased hospital readmission rates.
There are several benefits to reducing length of stay in hospitals, including but not limited to:
- Improved patient health outcomes
- Improved patient satisfaction
- Increased profits for hospitals
The burden of medical fees reduces as well with shorter hospital stays. At the same time, an increase in bed turnover rate due to reduced length of stay improves profits.
Impacting healthcare costs and patient outcomes
According to the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP) developed with the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), in 2020, there were around 32.6 million reported hospital stays with an average length of stay of 4.9 days, an average cost of $14,900 per stay (which has been steadily increasing since 2001), and aggregate hospital costs of over $482 billion.
Patient outcome success directly impacts a hospital’s success. Recent studies show that the risk of infection and medication side effects decreases, and the quality of treatment improves with the reduction of inpatient days.
How technology can help reduce length of stay
This data is nothing new or different. Studies from approximately the past decade show that a patient’s likelihood of a positive outcome decreases as their hospital stay increases. The difference now is that with advancements in referral management software, hospitals and health systems are empowered to address length of stay challenges and improve the outcomes within their control.
When patients are kept in the hospital for longer than necessary, it may lead to decreased patient satisfaction. Unnecessary delays in hospital discharge due to preventable factors such as poor communication can be frustrating to both patients and their families, potentially impacting the perception of overall care received. Patients who are discharged at the right time are more likely to feel positive about their care and return to that hospital for future care needs.
Similar to any business, it is crucial to consider how patients’ overall experiences will influence the amount of trust they place in a hospital. Frustrations and negative experiences can decrease trust for all involved in a patient’s care – family, friends, and the patient themselves. The Deloitte Center for Health Solutions also noted in a patient experience report that “hospitals with high patient-reported experience scores have higher profitability.” Based on their analysis from 2008 to 2014, hospitals with “excellent” patient ratings had an average net margin of 4.7%, compared to just 1.8% for hospitals with “low” ratings. These ratings are from Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) scores.
Some key strategies to decrease the length of stay include:
- Enhance communication between care teams
We’ve already noted that errors and inefficiencies that impact patients’ outcomes, satisfaction, and long-term trust can be caused by miscommunication. Effective communication often begins with a solid foundation to keep everyone on the same page. For hospitals, improving communication allows for a reduction in long-term issues for all involved. Aidin helps hospital groups streamline communication by managing case management workflows and acting as a hub for messaging between case management teams and providers.
- Enable better communication with secure record sharing
Secure record sharing allows for better and improved communication by allowing teams to connect with partners and share records, referrals, and requests via preferred communication methods. Not only is the information readily available, but it can also be shared and received in an ideal and timely manner, allowing hospitals to find the right referral for a patient and discharge them from the hospital quickly.
- Instant messaging improves communication between care teams
Efficient and reliable communication is a major factor in the success hospital groups see with Aidin’s HIPAA-compliant messaging system. It helps care teams securely chat and share patient details with anyone in the care community, allowing the entire care team to understand what care a patient needs and what has already been done for a patient, leading to reduced length of stay.
- Create better workflows for patient care
Every minute counts from admission to discharge. Better workflows allow hospitals to continually prioritize high-quality care and discharge patients in the appropriate amount of time.
- Streamlining workflows with patient checklists
A patient referral management system like Aidin allows hospitals and teams visibility into ongoing tasks, shows daily to-do lists per patient, and lets tasks get assigned to appropriate staff. Aidin also provides teams the ability to receive real-time alerts when tasks are overdue or incomplete.
- Real-time insights via capacity reports
Referral management software can provide real-time capacity reports so hospitals can identify patient discharge delays, share insights across their team, and see opportunities to create additional capacity.
- Compile a network of providers for referral
A digital auction environment like Aidin’s Referral Marketplace allows providers to compete for referrals and lets hospitals find and secure the best services for patients. Reduce denials, delays, and length of stay by managing active referrals and monitoring authorization requests all in one streamlined digital location.
The bottom line on technology enabling reduced length of stay
Hospital groups around the country are using referral management systems like Aidin to manage workflows, enhance external provider relationships, and improve key metrics like length of stay. Data shows that leveraging Aidin’s platform helps reduce length of stay by .86 day across the clients using it compared to legacy software systems. In fact, UCLA Health saw an average reduction in length of stay of 1 full day, with a reduction of 2.2 days for patients requiring inpatient rehab.
Editor’s Note: Russ Graney, founder and CEO of Aidin, began his career at Bain & Company in New York working with Fortune 50 companies in tech, finance, and consumer products. In 2011, Russ led the sale of his private equity firm’s largest investment, a case management services company. He left private equity to build Aidin when his uncle was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. Russ graduated from Harvard College magna cum laude.