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Using Patient Traffic Control to Reduce Treatment Delays for High-Risk Patients at a VA Hospital

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Background: For patients at high risk of function-limiting or life-limiting disease, the time elapsed between first clinical presentation, diagnosis, and treatment can influence the likelihood of treatment success.

Methods: A systematic change in the management of high-risk patients was undertaken. This approach includes identifying primary provider responsibility, establishing communication expectations between providers, developing a tracking system to actively monitor patients (patient traffic control), and using a time guideline to assess patient progression. A 60-day time frame was established for the time from first clinical presentation to diagnostic exclusion or treatment initiation.

Results: In a one-year period, 288 high-risk patients were entered into patient traffic control, 211 (73%) of whom were monitored in the primary care setting. The median time to diagnostic exclusion or treatment was 43 days (mean, 58.5 days). Sixty-six percent of all patients achieved diagnostic exclusion or treatment by 60 days. Of the 95 patients monitored for > 60 days, 56% had delays caused by patient noncompliance or because of the appropriate need for long-term serial radiographic monitoring. Thirty-eight patients (13.1%) demonstrated problems with appointment nonadherence. None were lost to follow-up.

Discussion: The patient traffic control approach enabled the management of the majority of high-risk patients within 60 days of presentation.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: March 1, 2008

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  • Published monthly, The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety is a peer-reviewed publication dedicated to providing health professionals with the information they need to promote the quality and safety of health care. The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety invites original manuscripts on the development, adaptation, and/or implementation of innovative thinking, strategies, and practices in improving quality and safety in health care. Case studies, program or project reports, reports of new methodologies or new applications of methodologies, research studies on the effectiveness of improvement interventions, and commentaries on issues and practices are all considered.

    David W. Baker, MD, MPH, FACP, executive vice president for the Division of Healthcare Quality Evaluation at The Joint Commission, is the inaugural editor-in-chief of The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety.

    Also known as Joint Commission Journal on Quality Improvement and Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Safety
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