How Real-Time Analytics Will Revolutionize Patient Flow in Emergency Departments

Female doctor using ipad while working in hospital

A new and important tool has emerged to greatly improve patient flow in the emergency department (ED) — real-time analytics. By analyzing real-time data to predict potential surges in patient volume, EDs are able to take a proactive approach to optimizing flow. As a result, EDs are able to quickly alleviate crowding and improve the overall quality of care patients receive.

Brent Newhouse, co-founder and head of customer success at analyticsMD, is helping hospitals across the country streamline operations by leveraging real-time analytics. The use of analytics in hospitals is growing, he says, and the results are very promising.

How it Works

Most hospitals live in a reactive world and aren’t using real-time data and computer-driven models. To many the idea may sound futuristic, a little mysterious, a little like Moneyball. But without predictive and prescriptive analytics, hospitals can react, at best, only after an issue has presented itself. Even worse, ED leaders may not know a problem existed until weeks later, after the monthly report is generated, says Newhouse.

In the world of real-time data, predictive and prescriptive analytics can help shape the choices ED leaders make to improve patient flow in real-time. Those working in the ED can follow all this data on a dashboard setup on a computer.

How to Ensure Positive Outcomes

Being able to predict and anticipate a problem is the first step. Taking action based on that prediction is the only way to ensure a positive outcome. With real-time, data-driven models, ED staff are now able to know exactly when patients arrive; how many are waiting and for how long; and where their patients are in the treatment process at the glance of a dashboard.

What’s the Difference Between Predictive and Prescriptive Analytics?

Predictive analytics approximates when a potential surge in patients may be expected based on incoming data; while prescriptive analytics uses this data to provide a recommended course of action, explains Newhouse.

Predictive programs, such as those offered by analyticsMD, are able to determine when patient surges will take place — something that is harder for someone who wasn’t a quantitative math or statistics major to figure out in a moment’s notice. What a huge benefit considering that when EDs become overcrowded, it’s often too late to do something about it. The use of real-time analytics allows EDs to nip problems in the bud and better anticipate and avoid bottlenecks related to surges in patient volume.

For the prescriptive part, these programs can also recommend generally what actions can be taken to alleviate or avoid the issue altogether, which decision-makers can then take into account when making the final decision.

However, in my experience in managing EDs, I should note that, as a rule, prescriptive analytics is not as fully of a developed technology as predictive analytics is at this time. It is just harder for a computer to make some of the judgment calls that an experienced human can. So it’s good to remember that these programs are not meant to replace human decision makers — the experienced health professionals all EDs depend on. Rather they are intended to be tools that vastly improve the information decision-makers have at their fingertips. It can help folks on the ground so they can make wise decisions more quickly — saving time and improving quality of care. That, in turn, makes for happier patients and maximized reimbursements.  

Real-Time Tracking of Resources

Another benefit data analytics can offer your ED is resource management info. If there are certain resources within an ED that are being underutilized, data programs can identify those resources, so decision-makers can put them back into rotation. Empty rooms provide a good example. Real-time analytics can show which room is empty, how long it’s been empty for, and make a recommendation about which waiting patient might make the most sense to treat in it.

The Future of Real-Time Analytics in Healthcare

With this much power, the use of real-time analytics is sure to gain wider prevalence as hospital leaders catch on to its benefits. Currently, it’s proving most helpful in providing hospital staff with information to help optimize patient flow processes, providing quick, high-impact results. In time, the use of real-time analytics will likely begin to influence decisions within other areas of patient care. For now, think of it as a tool that can be leveraged along with other strategies to optimize operations in your ED.

Meshing Data and People

I briefly touched on this important point earlier — collecting all of this beautiful data and then implementing change based on it are two different steps. But you don’t have to take just my word for it. As Venkat Mocherla, director of business development & marketing at analyticsMD mentioned in a recent blog, “ … to get the most out of big data, you need to be able to work with the people on the ground to bring informed change to life.”

Mocherla was inspired in part by Randy Bean in recent Harvard Business Review blog called, “Just Using Big Data Isn’t Enough Anymore.”

“The vast majority of the challenges companies struggle as they operationalize Big Data are related to people, not technology: issues like organizational alignment, business process and adoption, and change management. Companies must take the long view and recognize that businesses cannot successfully adopt Big Data without cultural change,” says Bean.

Keeping this in mind, if you are investing in big data, I advise that it is worthwhile to also invest in getting a plan together for implementing change based on your learnings. This is because I have seen this challenge crop up at hospitals I’ve worked with in the past.  

If your organization is working to leverage big data to improve operations, I’d love to help. I’ve helped more than one ED create actionable steps and coached staff through the process. I can leverage my 20-plus years of experience to help you optimize patient flow and show you how doing that can lead to increased quality of care and patient satisfaction. Drop me a line at

Even if it isn’t an opportunity for us to work together this important step of creating and implementing an action plan is not one to be missed. You want to maximize the investment you’ve made in data collection. It’s just smart business.

And if you’d like to learn more about how real-time analytics can give your decision makers on the ground information that has the potential to improve patient flow within your ED, visit