4 min read

Why Reducing Length of Stay Is Critical for Patient & Hospital Wellbeing

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In time-sensitive emergencies, it’s easy to see how each passing minute impacts a patient’s outcome, for better or worse. The faster a patient receives treatment, the better chances they have at a good outcome. When you’re performing a time-sensitive intervention for a stroke or trauma patient, you know that every minute matters. 

But what happens after the patient is admitted to the hospital? What about the minutes slipping past that aren’t quite as noticeable: the time while a patient recovers, waiting to be discharged? 

How does the length of a patient’s stay in the hospital impact their outcome?

The Cost of Longer Length of Stay 

The average length of stay for a patient in the U.S. is 4.5 days. Many hospitals are aware that length of stay is an important metric to keep track of, and that it’s better to strive for shorter lengths of stay where possible. However, evidence suggests that the length of a patient’s stay determines a lot about their experience—and about their ultimate outcome. 

Recent studies have shown that the longer a patient stays in the hospital, the less likely they are to have a positive outcome. 

Why is that? 

Though it seems counterintuitive, more time in the hospital can actually hinder a patient’s recovery. 

There is a wealth of research to show that patients’ chances at a positive outcome improve dramatically the faster they receive care. Longer lengths of stay create a number of complications in a patient’s journey and have been tied to higher mortality rates. The reason is simple: More time in the hospital puts patients at a greater risk of developing a healthcare-acquired infection (HAI), becoming the victim of miscommunication, and other complications. A 2011 study found that patients who experienced complications had substantially longer inpatient hospital stays than those who did not. These conditions complicate a patient’s recovery, often requiring them to stay even longer. 

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Length of stay also has a significant impact on patient experience. Patients don’t want to stay at the hospital longer than necessary. Though their hospital stay sets them up for a successful recovery, they are often eager to complete their recovery at home in a comfortable environment, surrounded by family and friends. Patients feel it when they are kept longer than necessary. It’s frustrating, and it negatively impacts their experience. On the other hand, when patients are provided with an excellent hospital experience and are discharged at the appropriate time, they are much more likely to be satisfied with their experience—and are more likely to trust you with their care in the future.

Brian Alverson, MD, a pediatric hospitalist at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence, R.I., commented: “We have to hold in our minds a healthy nervousness about patients being hospitalized, in that there is an inherent danger to that phenomenon. No matter how hard we strive for perfection in patient care, to err is human.” According to Alverson, shortening hospital length of stay to within a safe range is an excellent way to minimize those daily dangers. 

Longer lengths of stay negatively impact hospitals, too. They increase costs and are often linked to inefficiency—indicating that processes may need to be revisited. Likewise, length of stay directly impacts bed management, which lowers turnover and decreases revenue. It also means that hospitals may not be able to meet the needs of their patients; when a patient is kept in a bed longer than they need it, it may mean that the bed is not available for another patient who needs it more.

Decreased time of treatment equals decreased length of stay. It’s better for patients, better for their experience, and better for the hospital's bottom line.

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How Poor Communication Increases Length of Stay

Communication is an essential part of every successful team effort, and that includes patient care. As a patient’s case unfolds, care teams need to be in constant communication, keeping each other updated on what’s happening and what’s already been done for the patient. When a new provider joins the care team, they need to be given a comprehensive understanding of what’s already happened with the patient. 

Unfortunately, that’s the ideal scenario, not the standard. When that level of communication is absent, it causes major problems. Without a collective sense of what’s going on with the patient, parts of that patient’s treatment may be delayed, or fall through the cracks entirely. 

Miscommunication causes complications for patients, delays in care, and inefficiency in the system. According to the Joint Commission, miscommunication is estimated to be the reason behind 80% of medical errors during a transition of care. Quite often, these complications will increase the overall length of stay—and sometimes, the patient will even have to be readmitted because of those issues.

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In order for things to operate smoothly, correctly, and at peak efficiency, it’s important to have clear channels of communication that quickly get the right information to the right person at the right time. A fast, reliable communication system can dramatically cut the amount of time it takes to coordinate care for a patient. When every member of the team has access to the same information about the patient, it enables them to provide better and more efficient care for patients, which, in the end, is safer for the patient and better for the hospital. 

How Streamlining Communication with Pulsara Can Help Reduce Length of Stay

Pulsara is a telehealth and communication platform that connects all care teams on a single communication channel for each patient. Clinicians can build a shared consciousness around every patient by uploading the patient’s information and vital signs, as well as adding photos, recording audio clips, group messaging, and even connecting with live video calls. With Pulsara, clinicians can add a new organization, team, or individual to any encounter, dynamically building a care team even as the patient condition and location are constantly evolving. Every member of the team can stay up-to-date on what’s happening with their patient at all times, making it much easier to track every patient’s care. 

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Pulsara makes team communication smoother and more efficient, reducing mistakes and miscommunications. When everyone knows exactly where the patient is in their care and what treatments they’ve received, it’s much easier to know what they need next and to anticipate the timeline on which they’re ready to be released. Coordinating care for each patient becomes easier, as does making a plan for the patient’s post-discharge care, which can help reduce readmissions. 

Studies have shown that streamlining communication between clinicians consistently reduces time-to-treatment and makes care more efficient. 

How can Pulsara help your organization? Find out here. 

Improving Communication Improves Length of Stay 

Though there are many factors that go into the length of a patient’s stay in your facility, improving efficiency is one of the most impactful areas to focus on. And the best way to improve efficiency is to improve the lines of communication between your care teams. 

Working to improve communication helps healthcare organizations work towards an average length of stay that matches each patient's needs. And when organizations provide the exact level of care that each patient needs, it saves money, improves patient outcomes, and provides every patient with the best care experience possible. 

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Over the last few years, a group of leading clinicians in Victoria, Australia have transformed their team communication with cutting-edge technology, successfully reducing treatment times, building relationships between their care teams, and improving patient care. This is their story. 

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