Reroute Flu Patients to Contain Infection

Heidi Bell

With flu season fast approaching, I started thinking about additional ways to stop the flu bug from spreading. Like, what if clinics’ focus on containment went far beyond posters? You know the ones that ask people to inform the staff if they have the flu. While I appreciate the effort and impact on raising general awareness, most people can’t actually self-diagnose, no matter how many websites they visit. And, let’s say people do inform staff they have the flu and wear a mask throughout their visit. It’s likely their hands, clothing and handbags are carrying contagious bacteria or viruses, and could be coming into contact with many surfaces and even other people.

A better way is to design flu season patient flows so that sick people have little chance of infecting others. Some of the clinics we work with have been doing this already. By keeping abreast of CDC influenza outbreak reports, and by studying historical trends in patient visit types and patient visit cycle times, they create flu season “forecasts.” They then identify ways to optimize the space in their clinics for serving higher numbers of patients presenting with flu-like symptoms. One clinic in particular temporarily repurposes space just off the waiting area so it can be used for treating flu patients. During most months of the year, patients check in at registration and are given locating badges and assigned to exam rooms on the second floor of the facility. At the height of flu season, however, patients who present with flu-like symptoms go to the repurposed space which is on the main floor, just steps from registration.

The fact that this clinic creates flu season forecasts isn’t revolutionary – that’s been common practice for a long time. What’s interesting to me is their use of a combination of analytics, flexible space design and patient self-rooming enabled by locating technology to change the experience. Underneath all this is a team of people who puts patients in the center and then thinks outside the box about ways they can design convenient, effective services around them. They think about patients’ obvious needs, such as treatments to ease flu symptoms. And also about ways they can get patients in and out of their facility more quickly while avoiding exposing them to illnesses and other safety issues. They didn’t have to conduct a long, expensive study or requisition expensive supplies. They simply observed and reacted in a creative way to deliver an innovative solution.

Tracking infectious exposure