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Patient Flow Definition

Health care providers perform difficult jobs, sometimes holding patients’ lives in their hands. When patients present at hospitals or outpatient clinics in need of medical attention, effective patient flow facilitates the timely care the patients need.


Patient flow encompasses the systematic process of attending to patients, from the time they walk into a medical facility to the time they check out for discharge. Patient flow includes both medical and administrative functions, which may often overlap.


The Institute for Healthcare Improvement says that patient flow evaluates the length of time required for patients to be admitted, fill out their paperwork, submit their vitals and see a doctor. The goal of patient flow is to provide treatment to patients in a timely and effective manner.


Disorganization and miscommunication disrupt the patient flow, which can be detrimental to the patient. To maintain quality services, health care facilities evaluate where the patient flow process is being held up and what improvements can be made to correct the deficiencies.


Kyra Sheahan has been a writer for various publications since 2008. Her work has been featured in "The Desert Leaf" and "Kentucky Doc Magazine," covering health and wellness, environmental conservatism and DIY crafts. Sheahan holds an M.B.A. with an emphasis in finance.