Workflow is a familiar concept in the computer world. A good definition of workflow is a logical sequence of operations which are carried out in order to obtain a pre-defined result. As with many new developments in the computer world, hype about the utility of workflow increased quickly. After several years, the realization came that activities in practice are not always carried out in a fixed sequential order. There are always exceptions not covered by a pre-defined process.
Fortunately, there are techniques that decrease or eliminate these exceptions and still retain the benefits of workflow. In this blog I will first describe the advantages and disadvantages of traditional workflow for healthcare and then explain a new technique that retains the benefits of workflow but eliminates the main disadvantages of traditional workflow techniques.
Benefits of workflow in healthcare
The main advantages of traditional workflow for healthcare:
Efficiency. The workflow proceeds in a standard way as a streamlined sequence of activities that are therefore processed faster.
Quality. Because it is required that activities be performed in a specific order the workflow always follows a validated process.
Adaptability. A good workflow tool makes it possible to easily add new activities or adapt a process.
Auditability. It can be determined who has done what, and when.
Measurable. Processing time can be determined because the timeline of a process is documented and measured showing which activities take the most time.
Disadvantage of traditional workflow
The disadvantage of a traditional workflow is that in practice, the predefined sequence of activities may not be desirable in all cases. In addition, the system and not the user determines which activities will be executed and in which order.
A flexible workflow via state diagrams is a new and promising technique to preserve the advantages of workflow while remedying its disadvantage. The state diagram below describes, for example, the steps to invite a patient to participate in a vaccination program. In this state diagram there are six conditions. The arrows show the steps to be followed for any patient in that condition. Upon reaching a condition an action has been modeled. A patient can be anywhere in the process.
In addition to the traditional benefits of workflow, a state diagram has additional benefits:
The sequence of conditions and activities is flexible.
The user of the system can determine which condition a patient is in and what activities should be carried out.
It is always known what condition a patient is in.
VitalHealth Software is currently developing a generic module for defining and deploying state diagrams. This generic module may also be applicable for use within your company.