Do You Need a Patient Flow Coordinator in Your Emergency Department?

Two Nurses Meeting

It’s Emergency Nurses Week. Do you have someone filling the critical role in your ED? The role of the patient flow coordinator — or nurse — is to ensure patients receive the highest quality of healthcare in the timeliest manner. They do this two ways:

  • By streamlining the flow of patients through the emergency department from admission to discharge or transfer;
  • And by helping hospital staff, in and outside the ED, provide a level of care that exceeds expectations.

So, if patient flow coordinators are so vital to the quality of care and patient satisfaction, why aren’t they more common in the ED? Is it not worth the investment?

How Patient Flow Coordinators Can Improve Numbers

A 2012 research study published in the Journal of Emergency Nursing contends that the initial investments necessary to create these positions do pay off over time.

Researchers conducted their study at an urban academic medical center facing issues related to overcrowding within its ED. A “fast track” area was implemented, the size of the ED was increased, beds were placed in the hallway and ambulances were diverted. But only by assigning an emergency nurse as a flow coordinator to “affect patient throughput in the emergency department,” were researchers able to see a considerable decrease in patient length of stay, LWBS rate and monthly hospital diversion.

By the numbers:

  • Length of stay decreased by 87.6 minutes.
  • LWBS rate decreased by 1.5 percent.
  • Monthly hospital diversion decreased from 93 hours to 43.3 hours.

Patient Flow Coordinators Can Positively Impact Your Bottom Line

The researchers also remind us these decreases have a significant impact on a hospital finances:

  • Decreasing monthly hospital diversion by an average of 49.8 hours per month leads to a decrease of almost $20 million in lost potential charges annually.
  • By lowering the LWBS rate by 1.5 percent, nearly $5 million in lost potential charges are saved annually.

And of course, if length of stay can be decreased by nearly 90 minutes, patient satisfaction will surely increase.

Another example highlighting the benefits of patient flow nurses and coordinators is one out of Lexington, Kentucky.

Discharge Can Become a Priority

This article tells the story of Baptist Health Lexington COO and CNO Karen Hill, who created a patient flow nurse position when she realized her RNs weren’t consistently making patient discharge a top priority. Instead, they were focusing on those patients that were most unstable or had the highest acuity levels.

Hill tells Health Leaders Media, "I've seen a huge transition in my nursing career from high-acuity hospital focused care to, now, a focus on wellness across the care settings. As we've done that, one of the things that I've tried to do is to help develop a different way to look at hospital care."

By creating the discharge/flow nurse position at Baptist Health Lexington, Hill was not only able to improve quality metrics and transition care while lowering staff turnover, but patients were being discharged more efficiently, a decrease in readmission occurred along with an increase in patients’ levels of education regarding discharge.

The data makes it clear that patient flow nurses and coordinators are a valuable supplement to any ED. But creating these positions and integrating them within an already established ED dynamic and culture isn’t easy. Donovan and Partners can help you assess your ED and determine the best course of action when it comes to staffing your ED with patient flow coordinators. Contact us today.



Health Leaders Media: “How Patient Flow Nurses Help Cut Readmissions”

Journal of Emergency Nursing: “Does an ED Flow Coordinator Improve Patient Throughput?”